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Culture > Music and Dance > Scottish Country Dance

Music & Dance

Scottish Country Dancing:

Scottish country dancing, or "reeling" is a type of dance that has its roots in Renaissance court dances. It first became popular around the eighteenth century, filling a niche occupied today by ballroom dance. Various types of country dances include reels, which feature fast tempos and lively, quick movements, jigs, and strathspeys, which are slower and more formal. The dances are usually done in organized formations consisting of three or more mixed couples.

Unlike English country dancing, which uses walking steps, Scottish country dancing calls for special footwork according to a dance's choreography. Dancing schools often focus on "correct technique," which applies especially to footwork and the positions of the feet at various points during the steps. While well-executed steps do look quite impressive, their mastery involves some time and dedication and also a certain level of physical fitness - but with SCD being an inclusive type of pastime, the dance community does not discriminate against those who do not meet the highest standards. In fact, in many places the main object of SCD is having fun, and while for many dancers "proper" footwork is an important part of that, others can do without perfection in this respect. A more important aspect of good SCD technique than footwork has to do with spacing and timing; that is, ensuring that one is at the proper location at the proper time. Being a formation dance, a critical element of SCD is the pattern of the group's movement one the dance floor.

Scottish country dancing is, foremost, social dancing (that is, done with one or more partners): interaction with the other dancers, such as smiling and giving hands is an essential part of the dance. SCD is very much a team effort, and anyone attempting to "show off" through unconsidered "embellishments" is often frowned upon by other dancers. The general feeling is that "extras" are fine when the time and place are right, but should be left out when less experienced dancers in the set might be confused, or during classes.

During the early twentieth century, Scottish country dancing still played a role in social entertainment, especially in rural areas. Its popularity was dwindling, however, and it was in danger of dying out when the Scottish Country Dance Society formed to resuscitate it in 1923. Founded in Glasgow, the goal of this organization was to preserve "country dances as danced in Scotland"; the SCDS therefore began to collect and publish the existing dances and also reinterpret dances from old sources that were no longer in fashion. Dance steps and techniques, which might vary considerably depending on the region, became standardized in the process, allowing for the eventual universal compatibility of Scottish country dancers from all over the world. The society earned a considerable amount of popularity, and its influence on physical education teachers meant that most schoolchildren would be exposed to at least a minimum amount of Scottish country dancing during their academic careers. The Society achieved Royal patronage in 1947 and henceforth became known as the RSCDS, or Royal Scottish Country Dance Society.

Enthusiastic dancers started inventing new dances in the spirit of the older ones soon after the inception of the SCDS, while also introducing new figures not part of the "traditional" canon. Of today's 11,000+ catalogued dances, fewer than 1,000 of them can be considered "traditional". Although anybody can come up with a new dance, many dances are of local importance only. While the RSCDS does not try to control the invention of new material, it teaches the majority of Scottish country dance teachers, and its canon of dances makes up a huge portion of the global repertoire that one can expect to encounter wherever the art is performed. Active Scottish country dance communities can be found across continental Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, along with more unexpected places such as Japan, Russia, South Africa, Argentina, and Hong Kong. And, of course, Windsor, Ontario.

The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and
do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.
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