Editorial  Management Board   Summer School  Faith   Walk   Next Generation

September 2011      A NEWSLETTER           No. 126


To my great surprise – you’ll remember that I spent almost all of  last season hors de combat – I was present at the 2011 White Rose Festival.  It was even more of a surprise that I was able to dance in the York SCD Club team (and many thanks for persuading me to try, Rosemary), but that I was fit enough to fill in for another team, dance The Dashing White Sergeant at the end, and even stay for the evening dance.  It was all terrific!

Perhaps the best thing I saw all day was the Eightsome Reel, which closed the first half of the evening dance.  There were two sets at the bottom mostly composed of young dancers – one set principally Terry’s teenagers, who had an absolute whale of a time.  Jean and I sat and watched and felt quite invigorated just by watching them: they danced ‘fast and furious’, with tremendous enthusiasm and passion, and grace too.  

All of them were completely taken up by the dance, and were enjoying it together; they knew what they were doing and where they were going, and each person danced both as an individual and as a member of the group.  Yet for many of us, the Eightsome Reel was either too old hat or too exhausting, and so a good excuse to beat the queues for supper.  Better to queue for supper, though, and watch them, than to miss out the Eightsome as a spectator or as a participant, this time.

We have often wondered how to attract young people into dancing.  Watching these sets, it’s hard to see how other teenagers could do other than think “I want to do that” or (for the boys, few of whom were to be seen) “I want to dance with her – or her – or her.”  If you want to get young people to dance – show them these!  

Almost everything now, it seems, is videoed for either Facebook or YouTube.  Well, not this dance, at least!  But – maybe judiciously and carefully – a video could be made for YouTube showing (unidentified) teenagers dancing the Eightsome, and then it could go “viral”, spreading the word and getting lots of youngsters involved in Scottish Country Dancing.  I watched “Jig”, the documentary on Irish dancing, recently on BBC2 – absolutely brilliant.  Maybe someone could do a similar film on Scottish Dancing?  (minus the wigs, of course!)

The young dancers in “Jig” showed tremendous enthusiasm and dedication, and also staggering technical ability.  This just proves again that technique and enthusiasm are not incompatible, as so many would have it: enjoying yourself doesn’t preclude dancing well, and technical excellence without enjoyment is sterile and mechanical.  Scottish Country Dancing is great fun, and it is good social contact, but it is also an art, in my book.

An ongoing debate (see Malcolm Frost’s reply to Ian Hazell’s article in the May issue) is on the present and future directions of both the music and the dance.  Among other points he made, Ian was impressed by the contemporary treatment of English folk dance music, and thought that if the same were to exist in Scottish dance music, as opposed to just Scottish folk music, it would be more attractive to a younger cohort.  Malcolm sees the decline in numbers as a response to the increasing degree of difficulty of many modern dances, and thought a return to a simpler, older style was needed.  However, to me it seems that the younger people (i.e. anyone younger than me?) are not absent because dances have got more difficult, but because they’ve never had a positive and exciting image of Scottish Country Dancing presented to them.  So if that means contemporary folk-style music for dancing, that’s fine by me – and so is anything that gets more of those teenagers having a wonderful time dancing Scottish.

And finally, on a completely different note – the AGM this year is in Glasgow (4th – 6th November): our branch delegates are Malcolm Brown and Allan and Margaret Highet.  It is open to any member of the RSCDS; application forms are available online from the RSCDS website.  Interested?

Joyce Cochrane


A very successful day

with 21 walkers and 24

at the lunch. Many

thanks to Jean McInnes

Who not only organised

the route and the lunch,

but also the excellent



For years the tradition was that the newest person to go to Summer School at St. Andrews was the one who wrote the report, but as no-one new went for a while, it lapsed.  This year, however, we did send a “new boy” to St. Andrews – Ken Wallace, from Hornsea.  Ken was not the only attendee – Jean McInnes, Chris Hare and Margaret Highet also went for the last week.  The Branch was also represented by Alasdair Brown, who taught (and played the pipes), and Helen Russell, who stepped in to teach the Unit 5 class when the original teacher was taken ill.

Some quotes – Ken said that he couldn’t remember much about the dances he learnt, but the parties were great!  [Maybe that’s why he couldn’t remember the dances!]  He also did a turn in the ceilidh. Chris said that because there were only a few from our area, she and Jean did chat more to a wider circle of other dancers.  She’d thoroughly enjoyed the week – again!  Jean particularly enjoyed a dem-type set of 3 dances (including Moulin Rouge and The Trysting Place) which Alasdair had taught them in their last class.  She was impressed with how well everyone mixed together.  

So, who’s going next year


Written on Sunday,  May 15th

It is Sunday morning, and I am reflecting on the Branch Dance held at Pickering last night.

It was with a feeling of some trepidation that I drove the 50 or so miles up to Pickering.  I had had sight of the dance programme for some weeks, and it seemed to include more than its fair share of 40 bar sequences, ‘meanwhiles’, novel figures and dances that I had never heard of, let alone danced.  The phrase ‘a recipe for disaster’ came to mind.  Regardless, I got out the books, cribs and magnetic men and tried to fathom out who should be doing what and when, eventually gaining a fair understanding of most of the dances (but not necessarily remembering them).  My main, lingering, fear was that my fellow dancers just might be struggling more than I was (big head) and that my evening’s enjoyment would be marred thereby.

I need not have worried.  In the event all went exceedingly well. There were very few ‘strugglers’, so it was possible to guide them constructively rather than destructively.  I think that a  number of factors contributed to the success of the evening.  In the first place the local club Teachers obviously included most, if not all, of the programme in their weekly sessions, so we were well practised.  The fabulous music provided by Robert Whitehead also helped enormously, but I think the main praise and thanks should be reserved for the MC’s, whose recaps were so very concise and helpful.  Clearly they both benefited from attending Helen Russell’s recent RSCDS Basic Teaching Skills course, which was organised by the Branch.

So, the moral of all this is fear not, be grateful that you are part of a great RSCDS Branch, and enjoy your Scottish Dancing.

Philip Ashworth,  Willerby

Veronica sent this crib to me after the Pickering dance where, of course, Father Connelly’s Jig was on the programme.  The tile is Veronica’s, not mine!




         Of F we go!

 Set A nd          

   ro T ate.

              look rig H t, cross, change

       while corners s  E t & cross; half reel.

           R epeat

Reel a C ross.

            Cross d O   wn,  

   cast right, N  ot left,  

   cha  N  ge left and

       cast to sid E (one’s own).

        Diagona L changes and

        ha L f reels again.

    Hurra Y , hands round!

Veronica Wallace, York  

Comments regarding Broun’s Reel and the next Generation

Ian Hazell’s item: “Country Dancing And The Next Generation” was most interesting, with many valid points that cause concern to some of us who have been dancing much longer.

I am not sure how practicable it would be to blend in the type of bands he mentions without compromising their music and the traditional rhythms used for Scottish country dancing but I feel that the RSCDS has “defaced the coinage” in ways such as using airs for strathspeys (the so-called “pastoral strathspeys”). Airs are, almost universally, beautiful tunes but designed for listening – not dancing… the shape of the bar is quite different from a strathspey –“(very)  slow jig” might be more accurate, with its lift at the beginning of the bar; the strathspey starts with a dip (and where is the “Scottish Snap”?). I also find the interpretation of Scottish tunes by some English musicians sufficiently different to make it difficult to recognise them as the same tune; Scottish, English and Irish uses of terms such as “reel”, “jig” and “hornpipe” differ quite markedly; there are even regional differences within Scotland (e.g. Orkneys). Whilst it is common for musicians in English “Ceilidh” bands to play several instruments, keyboards (replacing the piano) are normal in Scottish bands and there have been various instances of other instruments – perhaps the most famous being the cornet in Jim Cameron’s band of the early post-war years.

Generally, Ian has made many very valid points. I started Scottish country dancing in the 1950’s, so was brought up with the principles that are still  the basis of the RSCDS Manual – we were taught “dancing”, rather than “dances”. Even in those days, there were too many dances for most to remember but each dance was made up of a small (normally less than six) standard formations. We learnt the footwork and formations, which enabled us to join in most dances. There are many more dances nowadays and many devisors seem to be unaware of the formations as the core of what made Scottish country dances unique. How many modern dances are made up almost entirely of two-bar phrases that, with different music, could come from any one of many different forms of country dancing across the world? Are these new dances really more fun than “Duke Of Perth”? “Deil Amang The Tailors”? Braes Of Breadalbane? etc… the new dances certainly give much more to think about – stretching many brains to the extent that something has to  drop: usually footwork and general social dancing standards. When the music does not match the footwork, it becomes even more complicated… and this is meant to be a “fun” activity!

From The Society’s formation in 1923 (to preserve traditional Scottish country dancing), it rapidly spread far outside Scotland as more and more appreciated its form.

Is it just a coincidence that diminishing numbers over the last 30 years or so have largely coincided with the increasing prevalence of these “wasn’t I clever to survive that one” dances?

One or two complex dances within an evening’s programme may well be a valid challenge for the “mastermind masochists” present, giving less experienced dancers a chance to rest and watch but a programme consisting almost entirely of such dances will merely discourage less experienced dancers, especially as a “walk-thru” is often not enough - these dances need to be learnt in class rather than on the dance floor! I often meet those who say they used to enjoy Scottish country dancing but that they gave up because it became too difficult!

Here in Knaresborough, we try to respect the traditions of Scottish country dancing, which was a social activity for the whole community, of all ages. We do include some recently devised dances but generally those that respect the traditional form.  Our prime priority is for everyone to enjoy themselves and leave at the end of the evening, relaxed and lifted by their achievements rather than stressed by challenges. We teach the footwork and formations but recognise that we all have our limitations and each has his/her own standards and priorities. We include dances that enable the class to practise formations, to help them dance them in the dances they encounter. Our experienced class members give great support to newcomers and to the less experienced.  Today’s constraints on teaching children make it more difficult to include them but, as long as they have their own adult relation (or friend or guardian) with them and they behave in a way that does not disrupt the class, they are always very welcome. But many parents seem to want to “unload” their offspring to activities that do not involve the parents themselves, leaving organisers and teachers to cope with all the consequent CRB, etc hoops.

I’m not sure that The Society is “fossilising the tradition as it stands today”. My view is more that it has abandoned the traditions that it inherited from hundreds of years of dancing in Scotland and that made it so popular across the world in its first sixty-or-more years. Today’s programmes seem full of dances devised within the last few years, many of which are increasingly bitty/complicated, with little recognition of the formations that were once the core of this wonderful form of dancing.

Thank you, Ian, for points well raised.

Malcolm Frost, Harrogate


This report highlights only a few topics that have been discussed by the Management Board and the committees, but hopefully it gives a flavour of their work.  There have been two normal Management Board meetings since the last report, and a special Strategy meeting, called to discuss the structure of the Society. A great deal of time at this meeting was spent on trying to decide whether we should change to a “Company Limited by Guarantee” or to a new legal form for Scottish Charities, a “SCIO”.  Both of these would provide better financial protection for the members of the Board, who are the Trustees of the Society.

The trustees Annual Report and Accounts were discussed at the last Board, where a net income of over £50,000 was reported for the year to 31 March 2011. (For full report, see the July mailing section on the RSCDS website.) A balanced Budget has been put forward for the current year; it is not proposed to ask for an increase to subscriptions at this year’s AGM.

At the last AGM it was agreed that we put £100,000 aside into a Development Fund, to pay for development projects outside of our normal work, and guidelines have now been agreed to enable this to move forward.

At the May meeting we received a presentation relating to the Society’s media resources, both audio and video, and production arrangements for future media projects. It was decided to appoint a Media Development Officer, initially for a period of three months.

A small working group has been set up to develop better methods of communicating with the branches and their members, looking at ways of making use of the internet and the website. Another group is working on how to involve more people in Scottish Dancing by emphasising the health benefits, (and posters will soon be available.)

A review and update of the Manual is currently underway, involving people from overseas, with the aim of making it available both as a printed version and on the website.

To illustrate the variety of topics discussed, at the last Board the Chairman gave a report of her recent visit with the Chairman Elect to the International Branch weekend in Prague.  Before the official start of the weekend the Chairman and Chairman Elect gave a presentation at an Open Forum to over 50 people, explaining the work currently undertaken by the various committees, along with plans for the future.

Malcolm Brown