The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, Belfast Branch Diamond Jubilee Dances

Anne Smyth


Last year, the Belfast Branch of RSCDS produced a book of six dances to mark its sixtieth anniversary (which had actually been celebrated in 2006). This was accompanied by a CD of the music for the dances in the book, with another four ‘sets’ thrown in for good measure.

During the anniversary year, the Branch had run a competition for which entrants were asked to devise a dance in honour of the occasion. The winner was ‘City of Belfast’, devised by our own Lucy Mulholland, and in the book this lovely dance takes pride of place. However, it is followed by four other very engaging entries from the competition, in addition to the jig ‘A Diamond for Belfast’, presented to the Belfast Branch by Marilyn Watson of Bournemouth Branch.

RSCDS enthusiasts will remember the immensely enjoyable 60th anniversary dance that took place in Belfast City Hall, when ‘Lucy’s dance’ was demonstrated very impressively. We also remember — all too well — a number of other interesting occurrences that night, not least the disintegration of the dance floor, which gave way under the assault from such a vast number of pairs of feet!

For those who are not ‘into’ Scottish Country Dancing and have not encountered dance notation, the dances are set out in the book as a consecutive list of ‘figures’, linked to the bars of the music, probably the dancer’s equivalent of a knitting pattern. For us ‘Belfast-yins’, however, there is the added bonus that for most of the dances their creators have told us the sights and experiences that inspired each figure. For instance, the note following the figures for Ruth Barnes’s ‘Six Times S’ tells us that the dance formations reflect the industries for which Belfast was known, and hence three of the six ‘S’s’ refer to splicers, stevedores and spinners respectively.

Typically, it takes a while for Scottish Country Dancers to become familiar with new dances. There are literally thousands of dances, and apart from the old faithfuls such as Postie’s Jig or Duke of Perth, few of them are retained in their entirety in the memories of even the most experienced dancers. However, the figures that make up the dances are taught in the classes, and then it is a matter of putting them together in the right order — easier said than done! Despite this time-lag effect, regular attendees have been ‘pit ower’ a number of these dances in the classes and have really enjoyed learning them.

The CD linked to the book of dances is by Marian Anderson’s Scottish Dance Band, which displays its usual excellent musicianship on this recording. For ‘City of Belfast’ and ‘A Diamond for Belfast’ (the first and last dances in the book), the set tunes were composed by Marian Anderson and, like all her music, they supply that joyous ‘lift’ that carries dancers through to the very last chord on a wave of energy. Even if you have never danced a step, this CD is guaranteed to raise your spirits and elicit a ‘hooch!’

The tunes in the recording have a connection with this side of the Irish Sea, and Belfast folk in particular will appreciate the inspired choice of ‘The Berry Picking’ for Kathrine Burke’s ‘City Hall Centenary’ reel. It is probably better known as ‘I’ll tell my ma’.

Scottish Country Dancing in Northern Ireland has long been a well-kept secret. In the Belfast area, you can dance every night of the week except Sunday. During the summer, when most classes cease to operate, the dancing fraternity takes to the road, seeking out its ‘fix’ wherever it is to be found. There is a largely hidden well of creativity, energy and fun in country dancing, and it works on so many levels — social, musical, recreational and fitness-orientated. If you think you might like to try it, why not telephone the Language Society office (xxx xxxx xxxx) and we can put you in touch with your nearest class?

The other hidden story of country dancing here is the proficiency attained by our teachers. All are highly-trained, following a course of instruction laid down by the governing body of the RSCDS, whereby they undergo examination for, firstly, an intermediate certificate and then a full certificate. While this keeps standards high, it also entails considerable expenditure of time, effort and money for those who wish to become fully-fledged teachers for the Society.

Elma McCausland of Bangor travels the globe instructing local teachers of the dance form. In fact, she has on a number of occasions travelled to Japan, where she teaches their teachers in a vast hall using a radio-mike. Back home, however, like so much else to do with Ulster-Scots language and culture, the story of Scottish Country Dance is largely ignored by the mainstream media.

To sum up, the Diamond Jubilee Dances, in both book and CD form, are attractively presented, and a ‘must’ for country dancing afficionadoes. If you don’t dance, the CD on its own is technically well produced and is well worth purchasing just to play when you need your spirits lifted, or as a present for someone else who does. The music is wonderful.

The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, Belfast Branch Diamond Jubilee Dances is priced at £4.00, while the accompanying CD retails at £8.00. Please contact the Language Society office on (xxx) xxxx xxxx for information on ordering.



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A new edition of Michael Montgomery’s From Ulster to America: The Scotch-Irish Heritage of American English recounts the lasting impact that at least 150,000 settlers from Ulster in the 18th century made on the development of the English language of the United States. This new edition published by the Ulster-Scots Language Society documents over 500 ‘shared’ vocabulary items which are authenticated by quotations from both sides of the Atlantic. A searchable online version of this dictionary is now also available here.


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