Scottish Country Dancing

Author: Elma Wickens

Date: 1993

Source: Ullans: The Magazine for Ulster-Scots: Nummer 1 Spring 1993

There is little doubt that in Scotland dancing is in the blood, and the Scot does not leave his native dances behind him when travelling overseas.

It was probably in the 14th century that dancing in sets of eight or more people originated in Scotland, but reference to it is scant until the 1600s. French influence at the time of Mary Queen of Scots is often mentioned as a possibility. The popularity of fiddling and dancing grew together in the late 1700s, and in the early 19th century another new dancing craze swept through the British Isles. This was the Quadrille, which had been introduced from France about 1815, and quickly a whole range of square dance quadrilles became popular such as the Lancers, the Waltz Cotillion, the Caledonians and the D’Albert. The Scots absorbed some of the new square dances with their own mode of dancing, such as the ever-popular Round Reel of Eight, and in turn dances like the Caledonians developed in the 19th century as forms of rural square dances in North America, Scotland and Ulster, largely to Scottish traditional tunes and influenced by the older traditions of Scottish dancing. Professional dancing teachers have existed throughout Scotland since at least about 1770. One of the best known was Scott Skinner who taught in the north-east of Scotland before he achieved fame as a fiddler.

Hey! for the music o’ Baldy Bain’s fiddle!

Redd up the barn, an’ we’ll gie ye a reel.

In till it, noo! wi’ a diddle-dum-diddle,

Dod! that’s the tune to put springs in your heel.

From the Barn Dance by W D Cocker

Country dancing had declined by the time of the First World War and the traditional fiddlers were a dying race. Then, seventy years ago a group of people interested in Scottish Country Dances met in Glasgow. The meeting, called by Mrs Ysobel Stewart of Fasnacloich and Miss Jean Milligan of Glasgow on 26th November 1923, marked the beginning of the movement which is now world-wide and known as “The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society”. Such was the interest in Scotland and elsewhere that there are now over 28,000 members in over 150 branches, as well as dancers in over 500 affiliated groups throughout the world.

In Northern Ireland there are three Branches of the Society — one in Belfast, one in Portrush and one in Whitehead. The Belfast Branch was formed in 1946 and now has a membership of almost 300 who attend seven weekly classes. Three of the classes are held in Belfast (in the Lisburn Road and Newtownards Road areas), one in Bangor, one in Helen’s Bay, one in Lisburn and one in Whitehouse. Scottish dancing is suitable for people of all ages and no previous knowledge of dancing is necessary. It gives you plenty of exercise and the opportunity to meet new friends, both at the weekly classes and the various social events throughout the year. Elma Wickens is the current Publicity Secretary of the RSCDS and anyone interested in learning the intricacies of jigs, reels and strathspeys can get in touch with her (Tel: Bangor ******).

Elma Wickens



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