Imagine this lively scene: An accordion sounds a few introductory notes as dancers bow or curtsy to their partners and then the dancers skip about, kilts and skirts bouncing to the rhythm as they execute well practiced steps, turns, grand chains, and round reels in their well ordered turn. This is a scene I have seen many times before, from Savannah’s oaken avenues to Grandfather Mountain’s alpine grandeur and yet I have never participated until last night. This wonderful dance is Scottish Country Dancing and I think I was born for it.
Scottish Country Dancing (SCD) has its roots in the 18th century but it wasn’t until the 19th century that these dances became popular and were cataloged. Contrary to what many think, these dances are not entirely folk dances although their musical roots go back much further to the traditional tunes of reels, jigs, and strathspeys. Their origin was from dances of the Elizabethan court where social European dances combined with traditional, energetic Scottish and Irish tunes. These “country dances” soon came to the Scottish court and towns and became immensely popular, even to this day. Thousands of dances have been written in the last few centuries and have taken the world by storm. Some of the steps also incorporate another type of dance original to Scotland: Scottish Highland dancing (known in SCD as Highland Schottische).
As you watch Scottish country dancing (and I found this out after participating), you may find some elements very familiar, especially if you’ve done any kind of American folk dance. SCD is a social dance where anywhere from six to ten people form a “set” and perform different steps, turns, hand offs, cast offs, and much more within 4 to 8 minutes of driving music. These “sets” often look very similar to square dancing and even some of the terms and movements like “grand chain”, “Allemande”, and “cast off” are similar. You also form in two lines or a square to perform the dance. However, something I found exciting and different was that while you perform these moves, you are also doing a variation of steps as you travel or stand in place. There is no caller so it can be fun and challenging to remember all the steps. I bumped into many folks last night but my fellow dancers were patient and helped show me where to go. It’s definitely a fun and invigorating dance that requires no prior knowledge. Although there are thousands of dances in the books, it’s easy to follow your teacher after they walk you through several times. I also found it very easy to follow the music for SCD compared to swing music, perhaps its just me.
If you live in Columbia, South Carolina you should definitely join me and several others at Eastminster Presbyterian Church at 7 pm on Tuesdays. It is a lot of fun and a great way to drive away the stress of the workday.