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If you are interested in Scotland, you probably already know the history of Scottish Country Dancing (SCD)...and you may have read about the types of dances, steps, music, and figures. Now, learn how to dance! Try my easy tips! First, let me give a little context to my suggestions. Three years ago, I enrolled in a local weekly class to learn Scottish Country Dancing. I had never tried SCD before, I had never seen SCD...in fact, I had never heard of SCD. I found the class quite by accident, but because I had recently developed an interest in all things Scottish, I had to give it a try. I am still taking classes, but also participating in balls, demos, and performances. Our instructor is wonderful! Classes like ours, which are affiliated with the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (RSCDS) are required to have teachers who have been certified in a demanding process of training and assessment. The certification process assures that instructors are accomplished dancers and thoroughly grounded in style, technique, and teaching skills consistent with the methods approved by the RSCDS in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society is a registered Scottish charity dedicated to promoting Scottish Country Dance. It has a world-wide network of Branches and currently has 360 Affiliated Groups. Local groups, as well, are dedicated to promoting Scottish Country Dance. We want to make it more visible and attract young people to learn the dances and carry on the traditions. So, we often perform for free or a nominal charge at festivals, dinners, nursing home....whatever is available to us. I know the best way to get started! Let me explain why... The first time you see Scottish dancing it looks very difficult, but there are many simple dances and that's where you'll start. When I began, most of the people in my class had been dancing for years...some for 30 years...so if was a little intimidating. Classes in some cities post the dances they will be teaching in advance (so you could prepare), but our instructor teaches us to listen to the verbal directions and wants us to be able to pick up the dance because we know the figures and understand how it all connects. Now, I can usually do that...but back then...no way! But, even if you know what dances will be taught, someone new to Scottish dancing will have trouble interpreting the directions. Below is a typical "crib" or directions for the Scottish Strathspey "The Minister on the Loch":


1-8 1C+2C Poussette 9-16 1C dance down 2 places, turn BH; dance up 2 places, turn BH and face out 17-24 1C+3C DblFig8 round 2C, 1C casting, 3C crossing up to begin, 1C finish facing out for 25-32 1W+2W & 1M+2M turn 1 (easy hand); 1C+3C repeat (easy hand) And, here are the directions for the Poussette figure: Strathspey Poussette (Diamond Poussette) Strathspey 2 couples 1 1M and 2L step in slightly, with L foot, while 1L and 2M step in to take 2H with partner, all forming a diagonal line between 1M and 2L positions, each man above his partner. 2 1C step diagonally down and towards men's side while 2C step diagonally up and towards ladies' side, both couples moving at right angles to the original diagonal but turning 1/4 clockwise on the hop. 3-4 1C step diagonally down and towards ladies' side while 2C step diagonally up and towards men's side, turning 3/4 clockwise to form new diagonal line between 1M and 2L positions, 2C above 1C, each man above his partner. 5-7 Repeat 2-4 from new positions. 8 Fall back to side lines. Note: The half strathspey poussette starts with the couples having already moved into the diagonal line at the end of the previous phrase. From there they dance 5-8 as above. These directions are from the "dance database" on the Strathspey Server website: http://my.strathspey.org/dd/dance/4411/ So, is it not easy for novice dancers to take those directions and make sense of them. It helps to know that C means couple, M means man, L means lady, etc. The numbers on the left refer to the bars of music when the figures occur. TIP #1: BUY THE VIDEO! Which video...and what is "progression"? Reel Scottish Dancing This is not my video, but it is one that I have purchased first in VHS and then in DVD format. I purchased it from a company in the UK, but I have seen it on Amazon as well. It is fabulous! It shows the steps and figures as well as dances at angles where you can easily see the patterns. The video repeats the dance several times so you can see the progression.


What is progression? Dances are usually written for 2, 3, 4 or sometimes 5 couples which means it takes that many couples to complete the dance. You may have 10 couples in the set, but if it's a 2-couple dance, only two couples will begin dancing...the first couple and the second couple. Songs are identified by the number of bars and the dance type. The Minister on the Loch is a 32bar Strathspey (a Strathspey is a type of dance tune in 4/4 time). Other types of Scottish dances are jig, reel, and hornpipe. After 32 bars, the first couple will be in second position and will begin the dance again and progress down the line of couples. TIP #2: A WORD ABOUT OTHER VIDEOS...the good, the bad and the ugly Three years ago I could only find about a dozen videos of Scottish Country Dancing on the web mostly on YouTube. Now, I am finding many more which is encouraging. But these usually fall in to 3 categories: (1) they feature very professional demo teams (that make you think you'll never be able to dance that well!); (2) they are from beginner children's classes (which give little help for leaning technique and phrasing), or (3) they are videos taken at balls with hundreds of people packed into a hall (and you can barely tell where one set ends and the next one begins because the sets are so crowded, or there's a bad camera angle and it's hard to see the figures) But, you can look for those that are made with intermediate or experienced dancers and these are very helpful when you are trying to learn a dance. You still have to practice your steps and technique with your teacher, but the videos help you learn the patterns. One other issue is that often the video doesn't give the name of the name. Some people do have titles in the video or the name of the dance in the description, but many more do not. I have emailed people who posted videos to ask the name and sometimes get a response; or I have shown the video to a more experience dancer and they can sometimes identify the dance. But, remember, there are around 4000 dances (the dances we have today date back as far as the 1700s) so if you are looking for a dance, the best way is just to but the name in a search engine like Google with quotation marks around the title. I now have about 30 or 40 that I have identified in my collection. You can save these videos to your YouTube "channel," or mark them as favorites. When you attend a dance, you will be given a "ball program" in advance which gives the names and "crib notes" for the dances. Check that list of dances against the ones you have saved in youtube or other video sites and you should find a few that you need. TIP # 3: MAKE YOUR OWN VIDEOS....its easy -- I promise! I have found the best method for learning the dances. I video the dance myself.


I started this just trying to prepare for a ball or performance, but it is so helpful I use if often. Just get a Flip Video camera for about $150.00, set it up on a little tripod and that's it. Flip Video cameras use AA batteries and have a built-in USB connector, so you never have to look for a charger or a computer cable. Plus, when you plug the camera into your computer, you can save the video, send it in an email, or post it to YouTube (for private or public viewings). The software in the camera (which automatically loads) does all the configurations for you. So now I have a great collection of my own, with titles for file names. Sometimes I keep the instruction, but usually I just keep video of the dances themselves. Give Scottish Country Dancing a try! Not only will you love the dancing, you will love the MUSIC!

Macy Purtle, EdD http://www.arkansasscottishcountrydancing.com/ http://www.zazzle.com/designshop2/gifts?cg=196651527606014014

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Scottish Country Dancing - You Can Do It!