May 2011       A NEWSLETTER          No. 125


Some time back in the 1980s Radio 4 broadcast a series of radio programmes rather in the style of a radio column called “More Wrestling than Dancing”, memoirs of life on one of the Scottish islands.  The quotation is originally from Marcus Aurelius: “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing”.  During my recent extended lay-off on account of my Achilles injury, I’ve had more more time to spend watching other people dance, and at times it has truly seemed “more wrestling than dancing”.

Helen Russell has a system of classifying dances all of her own which includes the “mother in law” dance (where a man asks a lady to dance, but never dances with her - Caddam Wood springs to mind) and the “deck chairs in a high wind” dance - just about anything where the lady goes under the man’s arm.  Unwonted physical contact can occur on such occasions, but is usually accidental, and caused by one or both persons misunderstanding the instructions, thereby at times proving the law of matter that “two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time”.

Scottish Country Dancing is not a non-contact sport, and in fact would be impossible to do without any touching.  There are all the moves where you are holding your partner’s hand, like promenades, allemandes, tournés (or indeed any turn), to say nothing of the various Tulloch holds.  Many of these holds will mean a closer body-to-body contact than simply holding hands, once the only decorous manner of body contact - think of Dick dancing with Fancy in “Under the Greenwood Tree”.

Certain types of physical contact can be resented, however.  I’m thinking of the kind of situation where someone, maybe a beginner or less confident dancer, is “helped” into place by someone “guiding” them. Fair enough if it’s the teacher, perhaps, and the dancer knows they are there, but even then there are usually other methods.  But it is not very far from “helping” to giving a little shove or push, and even if this is not the intention, it may feel that way to a dancer unaware of the “guider’s” (or “shover’s”) presence.  This is not accidental - it doesn’t need to happen, and the recipient can feel threatened.

Even worse are the occasions when one dancer is in the way of another - either because of a mistake, or because one or other dancer is late or early arriving at a certain position. So what do you do?  Dance round them if you can, hold back for a milli-second if you can, indicate where the other person needs to be (and you are sure you are right, aren’t you?)  But never, ever, ever push them or elbow them out of the way.  This is not hypothetical - I’ve seen it a couple of times this year.

So how can you help someone find their way without touching them?  Shouting instructions at them is one solution I’ve seen, but it’s far from foolproof.  However, many instructions can be given without words at all. A nod of the head towards the correct place, small indications with hand or body, either from the partner or others in the set, is often enough.  Non-verbal communication like this, though, will only work when dancers do look at each other - all the hints in the world are useless if the dancer stares fixedly at the ground.

I suppose that really I’m pleading for dancers to be aware that while they themselves may not mind physical guidance from other dancers, there are other people who are less comfortable with this. By participating in country dancing we have given our consent to touch, but have not given our consent to be shoved around!  The intention and the effect may well be miles apart.  Sensitivity together with good spatial awareness can solve the problem.

Joyce Cochrane


Your editorial in the current issue raises a very important issue and it prompts me to write with some of my experiences as a dancer over the last 35 or more years. For 25 of those years I was very active in the English country dance scene, dancing various styles of Morris and travelling all over the UK to country dances ( more often known as Ceilidhs on the English scene ) with the best of bands. These dances were lively events, and often attracted a younger age group. The important difference between that scene and the current Scottish Country Dance scene was that the amount of knowledge required to participate was minimal, just a sense of rhythm and some basic steps, as all the dances except the very best known ones were walked through and then called the first couple of times through until the caller deemed it time to shout 'you're on your own now'. The other attraction to the younger age group was the bands which were for the most part very influenced by the folk rock scene, bands such as Gas Mark V, The Electropathics, All Blacked Up, The John Kirkpatrick band, and Laycock's Overdrive, bands which comprised a variety of instruments often with Sax and keyboards nearly always with electric Bass & Drums.

There is another more serious side to the English dancing scene: the Playford dance groups. Over the years, out of curiosity, I was tempted on a number of occasions to go to Playford events but even when I went with an experienced Playford dancer as a partner I always felt out of my depth and somewhat intimidated. When I was in my early 30s the Playford dancers all seemed ancient and staid (some of them were probably as old as 50! ) the music they danced to was often recorded or if there was a live musician the music was played straight from the score without any of the 'lift' that an experienced dance musician can inject into the tune. In short it was boring compared to the country dancing I was used to, but the biggest problem was that an encyclopaedic knowledge of the dances was required as quite complex dances were merely announced, or at best talked through once briefly! I see strong parallels here with the dances run by the Society.

The experiences I had at these Playford events gives me something of an insight into what it must be like for a new young dancer entering the Scottish Dance scene today. Even for myself, with primary school Scottish Dancing as a foundation and decades of English Country dancing and playing for dancing to draw from I must say I found my first few weeks at Harrogate and York quite daunting. I am sure it is quite terrifying for a complete beginner, especially if they are from a younger less confident age group.

I am afraid I do not have the solution to the problem, but there certainly is a problem. If we are to attract the next generation into our tradition something has to be done to make it more accessible, and attractive to the younger dancers. Where are the young lively dance bands? The Scottish traditional music scene is lively, with musicians such as Battlefield Band, Capercaillie, Natalie McMaster, Old Blind Dogs, Peatbog Faeries etc, but these are all 'Concert Bands'. I do not know personally of any Scottish dance bands with a similar approach to the music. Having played for dancing for many years, I know that there is a need for accuracy in the timing of the music if it is to work for dancing, but that does not preclude experimentation in the use of key changes, countermelodies and inter-reaction between the various instruments in the band to give the music excitement and lift.

My impression of the Scottish Country dance scene after 18 months is one of a tradition doing very little to attract the next generation, and a tradition whose natural development and evolution is being constrained by a desire to fossilise the tradition as it stands today. Maybe we need the Scottish equivalent of Riverdance to update the tradition and awaken the interest of younger participants.

Ian Hazell, York

Come to the AGM – next year!

‘Pole dancing tonight, then?’ said Patrick, reading the entry ‘Branch dance’ on the calendar. On Fridays it just says ‘dancing’, which to P means wild tribal frenzy. Mondays I suppose are the same, with a religious flavour. And he always reads the monthly ‘HO [Hartrigg Oaks] dancing’ as NO Dancing so I don’t know what he thinks we get up to there. At the occasional ‘Dunnington dancing pm’ we doubtless discuss our shortcomings, or perhaps - but use your (morbid) imagination for that one.

This dancing business certainly seems to have got into my blood since I started it about eight years ago, after a gap since schooldays. A year’s intensive study at school (i.e. half an hour a week at the age of eleven) left me with merely the knowledge of how to set - and no doubt there are teachers now who wouldn’t be entirely sure of that. We had two country dance teachers at school, both Scottish. Mrs Field was an enthusiast - she must have known Miss Milligan! - and worked us hard. The better sets gave a demo to parents on Sports Day; to give her her due she tried kindly to comfort me when, being in the tone-deaf and fat girls’ set, I cried at being excluded from the event. I longed to emulate a sixth-former (how we all swooned!) who brilliantly executed a sword dance.

Mrs F’s rival was a Miss Ailsa Craig, who, in spite of her name and ?Edinburgh speech, was blatantly scornful of perfection in dancing, and for a term or so allowed us to stumble through the English country variety. My main memory of her is the vision of her peering angrily over a large pink petticoat, hastily snatched up one morning when I was ‘dared’ to enter her changing room without knocking. Oh the shame, hers and mine! - but of course it was I who suffered more on balance.

How did I get back to school when I started writing about - what was it? Eight years’ dancing, a brief period compared with some, and senior moments multiply, but helpful hands are always there to drag-and-drop when the mind goes blank. It is comforting that there’s one person we all know who notices when one’s foot goes even a quarter of an inch in the wrong direction before recall of the next 8-bar phrase kicks in; it means he thinks we can get it right. As he would say, that’s my story anyway. So let’s all go on dancing, especially at the AGM where there’s likely to be plenty of floor space; as long as the legs work (a bit) the music, as ever, will tell them what to do!

Veronica Wallace

dancing “mairi’s wedding”

The October “Broun’s Reel” included a very full and interesting article by Malcolm Brown on “Mairi’s Wedding” and the discussions that surround it. You may be interested in my personal recollection of meeting this dance.  

I was first taught this in 1959 (or possibly 1960), complete with first couple passing right shoulder in the “Mari’s Wedding Reels”, so this “variation” had already arrived by this time. Furthermore, we were told by the class teacher that these big, flowing loops represented the bows on the bride’s bouquet and that, whilst the written instructions showed left shoulder reels, this was a misprint!  It was a dance that rarely appeared on RSCDS programmes until about 1990 but was danced with the right shoulder version wherever I encountered it (but I have danced on only three continents).

It was only when the RSCDS suddenly appeared to recognise it that I encountered “the discussion”. As a teacher, I have certainly found that (especially inexperienced) dancers are very liable to go to the wrong corner if passing left shoulder but far less likely to do so when passing right, as it naturally directs you towards the right corner (no pun intended)

One other curiosity is the habit of some dancers to “whirl like dervishes” in the half reels. I don’t know when it appeared (I guess sometime in the ’70’s) – I certainly never encountered it in the dance’s early days) but I wish the RSCDS had put some effort into eradicating it. I suggest it is downright dangerous, especially when there are inexperienced dancers in the set; moreover, such dancers try  to emulate “the experts” increasing the danger and losing the timing of the dance. It becomes even more dangerous if first couple is trying to pass left shoulders in the middle.

Malcolm Frost, Harrogate

Ed. - Although danced by many RSCDS groups, as far as I know the RSCDS has never “recognised” the dance.  Does anyone have any further comments?  


The charity dance this year will be held at All Saints’ Church Hall in North Ferriby on Saturday 11th June, beginning at 7.30 pm. Admission costs £5 for all comers; there will be a faith supper as usual, and a raffle.  All moneys raised will go to our chosen charity, which this year is The Mission to Deep-Sea Fishermen, based in Hull, which does a lot of work with ex-fishermen and dependents as well as those currently at sea.

As always, the crib and a link to a map of the venue will be available on the website.  It would be great to see more of you from the York area!

The programme has been drawn up by Philip.


The new Branch Committee consists of the following members:

Secretary    Helen Brown

Treasurer    Rita Eastwood

Chairman    Malcolm Brown

Other members:   Joyce Cochrane

     Chris Hare

    Margaret Highet

     Jean McInnes

    Norma Wheeler

Welcome to Norma as a first time member of the committee!


The “Knaresborough Scottish” Classes will continue through the summer apart from a short break in the second half of August.
The relevant dates are:
Holy Trinity, Knaresborough, HG5 8BG:

May 11,18; Jun 1,8,15,29; Jul 6,13,20; Aug 3,10,17;  Sep 7,14,21; Oct 5,12,19; Nov 2,9,16,30; Dec 7,14
Markington Village Institute, HG3 3NR:

May 25; Jun 22; Jul 27; Sep 28; Oct 26; Nov 23

August 17 will be an “End-of-Season” party (with Faith Supper); November 2 will be a “Halloween Special”; Nov 30 will be a “St Andrew’s Special (with Haggis Supper); December 14 will be the Christmas party (Faith Supper)

Malcolm Frost


In the last edition, did you notice the picture of Malcolm being presented with his scroll at the beginning, and Allan dancing at the end?  Good photos!


George was born on December 5th 1921 at Alford in Aberdeenshire. He was one of a family of six children born to Robert and Mary, four boys and two girls.

He left school and became an apprentice plasterer at the age of fourteen. By the time that the Second World War started he was a member of the Territorial Army, but at the age of seventeen was considered to be too young to be sent to France. He was sent off to the Orkney Isles for further training. Somehow he was transferred to the Northamptonshire regiment, although early photographs suggested that he was initially in the Gordon Highlanders.

The initial posting was to East Yorkshire to man searchlights near Malton and Fimber covering local airfields and Hull docks. It was at this time that he met a young lady from Wetwang, Millie Leppington, who would ultimately become his wife.

In 1941 he was posted overseas, initially to North Africa. While overseas he and Millie corresponded frequently. At one port he wrote of receiving a collection of 41 of her letters waiting for him. Millie had a collection of over thee hundred letters sent by him during the war. During a six day period of leave at Christmas time in 1942 George and Millie were married.

After North Africa it was into Italy where he lost one of his best friends in house to house fighting. At one point he got separated from the regiment and had to live off the land for a period. On another occasion he was involved with “Popski’s private army” an organisation with similar aims as the Long Range Desert Group and a forerunner to the present day S.A.S. In October 1944 he was wounded by mortar fire, transported to hospital by air in very cramped conditions with his nose almost touching the stretcher above him. After recovering he was transferred to driving duties. He described driving the supply lorries over the desert in Iraq and sleeping on the sand under the lorry at night. In January 1946 George was demobilised at the age of 24.

George and Millie decided to remain in East Yorkshire. He returned to his original trade as a plasterer initially with Walt Burgess of Sledmere but later he started his own business. Some of his work can still be seen at Sledmere Hall where he covered his ornamental plasterwork with gold leaf.  

As a young man his recreational interest was football .A very talented player, playing for a good amateur side Bridlington Trinity and representing the East Riding. When he retired from football he devoted his energies to Scottish Country dancing. He ran classes in the East Riding before the York and North Humberside branch of the RSCDS was formed.  A member of the RSCDS since 1975 and holder of a teachers certificate from 1979 he organised large dances and got well known bands from north of the border, including Jimmy Shand to play for them. The George Main dance team danced in many charity events, and at Beckett Park festival the forerunner of the White Rose Festival, and on at least one occasion in France. He served on the branch committee and as chairman of the Branch. It was fitting that he should be the first local recipient of the RSCDS  branch award in 2005.

As an exile he joined the Scots Society and served a period as chairman. His numerous contacts were frequently very useful. The City of Hull pipe band was persuaded by him to come and play in Queens Square on the occasion that the Branch put on an out door display.  Numerous venues were found by him for dances and practice, the most quaint being an old chapel at the village of Lund. It was only just large enough to accommodate one set.

George was deeply involved in local council work, serving as chairman of the Wetwang Parish Council for many years. In recognition of the services that he had given for the local community George and Millie received an invitation to one of the Queen’s garden parties in 1978. This he attended proudly wearing his kilt. In 1992 George and Millie celebrated their golden wedding.  Unfortunately Millie became terminally ill shortly after this.

The Beverley class had to close down when the venue  was taken over by the local authority, but he continued with his class in Willerby at the Dodsworth Hall and later at St.Luke’s Church Hall. By this time he was well into his eighties. Many of his group were very anxious about his safety as he drove the twenty or so miles from Wetwang  to Willerby during the winter months and in all weathers.

At the end of 2010 he was persuaded to leave Wetwang to live nearer his son Ian and daughter in law Christine. Sadly his health was very poor with multiple problems which led to him falling and breaking his leg, an injury which ultimately proved fatal.

George was one of a generation now rapidly diminishing who were uprooted by a world war, lived through many unpleasant and life threatening experiences. He returned to civilian life far from his original roots to make a great contribution both to his local community and to the recreational activities that he took part in. Those who remember him will be grateful for his endeavours while those who did not know him can only hope that there will be others of a similar nature coming forward to continue to serve their communities as he did.

George Edwards, Willerby


Molly Williams danced in the York area and was a well-known figure, although she had not been able to dance for some years.  To some she was just known as “Albert’s wife” when Albert was the chairman of the York Club, but she was much more than that.

Molly was born in Hampshire and met Albert - typically, at a dance - at the end of the war, in Blandford Forum.  They were both keen dancers, and enjoyed English Country Dancing as well as the Scottish variety. Albert retired after teaching in various parts of the country, and he and Molly moved to York, where they became stalwarts of the York Scottish Country Dance Club.  Although it was Albert who became Chairman of the Club, Molly added all her efforts too.  For some years she invited people from outside York back to the house between the day school and the evening dance, so that they could wash and change - I remember that buns and sandwiches were available too!  

Molly had suffered from osteoporosis for quite some time, and was an active member of the Osteoporosis Society.  In recent years she had had a lot of falls, and was going downhill although she was still managing to live at home.  Her last fall occurred at Christmas; fortunately her son Ian had come down from the north of Scotland and was there with his wife.  Molly sustained a broken arm and severe bruising, and went into St. Helen’s in York, where unfortunately she suffered a relapse.

Molly died on January 22nd 2011, aged 87.  At her funeral, someone said: “Well, there’s enough of York Club up there now to make up a full set!”  Our condolences go to Ian and his wife Pam, and other family and friends.

Many thanks to Kate Kerman for her help.


Norman Gill was known for many years principally in the East Riding: he was a long-serving member of George Main’s classes in both Beverley and Willerby.  He did not get to many dances outside of the East Riding; he attended a few branch dances in Driffield, Cottingham and Beverley, and always wore tartan trews.

Norman originally came to Hull to work on the docks, and took lodgings with Nancy’s parents - as we all know, he went on to marry Nancy, and they lived for many years at Bilton.  They had a large garden - Norman was a very keen gardener - and every July Nancy would hold a garden party at which there would always be some Scottish Country Dancing.

Norman died aged 89 on March 12th 2011, and his funeral was held at Willerby Crematorium on 22nd March.  We would like to express our deep sympathy to Nancy and to their two daughters.


It was with sadness that we learnt of the death of JOHN MASON M.B.E. on January 22nd 2011, the day after his 71st birthday.

John Mason was the founder of THE SCOTTISH FIDDLE ORCHESTRA in 1980.  They were regular visitors to York at the Barbican, and later at the University.  Many of us enjoyed John’s vigorous conducting of the toe-tapping music, and danced in the aisles.

John Mason was born in Kirkwall, Orkney, into a musical family, and learnt to play the piano and the fiddle.  The family moved to Wigton in Galloway where he went to school and continued with his music.  Later he went to Edinburgh Universityto study Law, and practised in Newton Stewart, and then Troon.  During this time he continued his musical interest, especially his passion for traditional Scottish music, and this inspired him to gather together like-minded musicians and found the orchestra.

As well as their conductor and musical director, he was a talented composer, and wrote the tune for father connelly’s jig - a dance devised by john Drewry and which some of us have been practising over the last few months.

John Mason will be missed, but his orchestra lives on.

Elizabeth MacDonald & Margaret Savage, York