Background to Scottish Country Dancing

Scottish Country Dancing has its roots in the British formal dances mainly of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. These dances were figure based with the emphasis on elegance along with a considerable level of stylized flirtation. With the emergence of the Polka and the Waltz in the early 1800s the formal figure based dances of earlier years almost died out in England. Possibly because of the poorer quality of the floors in Scotland and Ireland the Country Dance remained popular in those countries. By the end of the 1st World War the Polka and Waltz was taking hold in Scotland and the knowledge of Scottish Country Dancing was being lost. There was some knowledge of figures from various manuscripts and the recollections of the older generation, however, memories are not always perfect and the descriptions of figures and steps were very rudimentary. The interpretation that existed also varied widely across the country.

Two Ladies, Miss Milligan and Mrs. Stewart got together to save Scottish Country Dancing before all memory had faded. In 1923 these two Ladies formed the Scottish Country Dancing Society (to become Royal in 1951). The society and especially Miss Milligan formalized the dances, figures and steps over the first 15 years. Miss Milligan continued to develop the Strathspey travelling step, which she only finalized in around 1950. The (R)SCDS has now published 41 Books of an average of 12 dances each along with collections of leaflet dances and some other books with a special market such as for children. The later books contain many dances composed by modern devisors but the dates of the manuscripts on which the dances in the first 20 books were based range from 1710 to 1890 with a concentration around 1780.

Modern Scottish Country Dancing

So called ‘Traditional’ Scottish Country Dancing therefore really dates from 1923 and the standardized interpretation by Miss Milligan of the rather ill defined Eighteenth Century dances. However modern Scottish Country Dancing still has some of the easy formality of the early dances and is social with an opportunity for mild flirtation without any commitment. Scottish Country Dancing at Bracknell Reel Club is based on sociable dancing for fun. This is the early approach of the Society as spearheaded by Miss Milligan where the spirit of the dance ruled the day rather than the more rigid adherence to the printed word now adopted by some groups.

Scottish Country Dancing should be a light hearted pursuit and not a religion. It should be danced by a group which is known as a set and should not be taken as an opportunity for an individual or couple to show off how much better they are than the rest of the set. Such individualists ruin a demonstration team and similarly greatly detract from the social aspects of Scottish Country Dancing. A good dancer can carry a set but only by dancing with them and not by being aloof. It is not important to the rest of the set how good you are as an individual dancer but only how you enhance the pleasure of the others in the group.

It is important for the beginner not to be concerned about the effect their mistakes have on the other dancers. We all make mistakes on a regular basis but the beginner will always tend to blame themselves for the mistakes of others. Remember if we were perfect we would be prancing about on the stage at Covent Garden and not enjoying ourselves at a social dance.

Footwork is part of Scottish Country Dancing but at a social dance it is only important to the rest of the dancers that the beginner is able to move from one position to another with the music. Footwork can be perfected in the future at the wish of the dancer as and when they are ready.