A Look at Scottish Dancing
26 March 2012
Scotland’s rich variety of dances in varying degrees of difficulty include Ceilidh Dances, Country Dances, National Dances and Highland Dances
These are social dances such as Dashing White Sargent, The Gay Gordons, Strip the Willow and Eightsome Reel. They are mainly couple dances in various types of set and usually accompanied by a small band of two to four musicians playing keyboard, fiddles, accordion and drums.
No set dress code exists for these social evenings. However, on formal occasions men may wear a kilt and jacket whilst the ladies’ attire would be a long white dress with a tartan plaid or sash on the right shoulder; but dignitaries would wear the sash on the left shoulder. Helen Wingrave was proud of being entitled to wear her sash on the left shoulder. Her husband, Iain McNab of Barachastlain was a Chieftain.
“Any staff accompanying the Royal Family for their New Year celebrations would be expected to have a knowledge of the country dances”
Hogmanay at Balmoral includes such social dancing and a short BBC film once recorded the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh dancing the Eightsome Reel. Any staff accompanying the Royal Family for their New Year celebrations would be expected to have a knowledge of the country dances. Step dancing might also be performed at a Ceilidh. However, it would be danced in normal outdoor shoes and is less precise than Irish Stepping.
The country dances, six of which are included in the National Dance syllabus, are danced as couples within a set, the most common of these being a three couple dance within a four couple set. The musical accompaniment, played on fiddles or accordion, consists mainly of Reels, Jigs and Strathspeys. Nowadays these are usually performed as demonstration dances. The men would be clad in a kilt and jacket with hard soled laced-up brogue shoes whilst the ladies would wear the white dress with the tartan plaid or sash. The dress might be full length or calf length and the ladies’ footwear would be soft black pumps.
Scottish National Dances
The National Dances are a group of solos, most of which were invented by dancing masters and contain a more balletic influence. Although similar to Highland Dancing they are less precise with a softer style. The Scottish Lilt comes into this category, as does Flora McDonald’s Fancy, and Blue Bonnets. Originally danced by women but now also performed by men.
The Aboyne dress (named after the Aboyne Highland Games) is the traditional apparel for these dances. It consists of a full, gathered tartan skirt, white petticoat with lace edging, a lace edged, short sleeved white blouse, a laced up velvet waistcoat with petal shaped bottom and a plaid or sash. Black Highland Dancing pumps with tights (or white knee length socks for younger dancers) complete the outfit.
Men performing these dances may either wear the kilt and jacket or tartan trews (trousers).
Traditionally danced by men but nowadays also performed by ladies, this section includes solos as well as dances for four dancers. The Highland Fling, Ghillie Callum (or Sword Dance) and Seann Triubhas are amongst the solos. Broadswords, Strathspey and Highland Reel or Reel of Tulloch are dances for four dancers. The Bagpipes usually accompany Highland Dancing.
The footwork is extremely neat and precise and the hands reputedly mimic the shape of the deer’s antlers (although this fact is disputed by some).
The outfits for the men vary. The jacket might be velvet or cloth with any style of doublet and the choice of a lace jabot or a black bow tie. Any clan or family tartan would determine the design of the kilt and the attire would include a sporran. The socks of a tartan hose to match the kilt might also have a Skean Dhu (small sock knife) and possibly garter flashes in red or green. The gentleman might also wear a plaid. His headgear could be a Balmoral or Glengarry and his footwear, black Highland Dancing pumps.
Similarly, the ladies’ outfits would consist of a kilt with a plain kilt-pin and a white blouse trimmed with lace (long or short sleeves). The close fitting, velvet jacket or waistcoat (fastened at the waist and in a colour matching the kilt) would be trimmed with silver braid. The socks, to match the kilt, could be either tartan hose or a plain colour and the Highland pumps might be black or coloured, matching the kilt.
Scottish Dancing can be seen at the Cowal Highland Games in Dunoon where the World Championships are held. Also many towns and villages in the north of Scotland hold annual or bi-annual Highland Games and many of these villages run Village Fêtes in spring and summer – all of which include demonstrations of country dances.
Heather Rees (with Claire Quinn)
National Dance Faculty Summer School 2012
A Summer School has been arranged to take place at Kilburn School of Dance in Wellingborough, by kind permission of Amanda Wilkins. It will be held on 21st, 22nd and 23rd July. To book please contact the Education & Training Department on 020 7377 1577 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Revised Vocational Graded Syllabus will be taught and the course will include visiting lecturers.
The cost will be £165 for three days for those booking as an ‘early bird.’ Later applicants will pay £195. This does not include accommodation or food. However, tea and coffee will be available and there will be facilities for teachers to bring their own lunches. For those wishing to stay, Kay Ball, Chairman of the Classical Greek Faculty, has information about a local hotel which offers a good rate. The Greek course will start in the same venue on 23rd July, therefore it will be convenient for teachers to participate in both courses if they wish.