It has already been explained that so called traditional Scottish Country Dancing really dates from 1923 and Miss Milligan, helped by a base of rather ill defined Eighteenth Century dances. However it still has some of the easy formality of the early dances and is social with an opportunity for mild flirtation without any commitment. The following is based on the sociable dancing for fun approach of Miss Milligan where the spirit of the dance ruled the day rather than the more rigid adherence to the printed word approach adopted by some groups. Scottish dancing should be a light hearted pursuit; as Miss Milligan said “dancing is a joyous thing and must never become so drilled as to loose the natural gay social spirit”.


Without communication an activity cannot be described as social. Also you do not need to speak to communicate. You can communicate with your eyes, your hands and by doing things jointly with others. It is the same in Scottish Dancing. Dances are performed in sets usually of four couples, to be social the dancer has to dance with the others in the set and not in isolation. The true social dancer dances as part of a group and there has to be communication to hold the group together.


There is a tendency for dancers to look on the floor instead of looking in the eyes of the rest of the dancers in the set and this is especially so with beginners. If I was dancing with you and you were constantly looking at the floor I would feel that you were criticizing my steps, now if everyone were to be looking the others in the face the dancers’ steps would not be important. Generally you have asked your partner to dance or you have accepted their invitation, so dance with them and look at them. When walking down a road you would not ignore someone you had a social relationship with, so when you are moving round the dance, acknowledge the others in the set with a smile. If you cannot stand the person then look at their ears and smile at how funny they look.

There is a joke in Scottish Dance circles that the difference between and Extrovert Scottish Dancer and an Introvert one is that the Extrovert looks at other dancer’s feet and the Introvert at his own.


If you are moving up or down or across the set at the same time as others then move with them. It gives them, and you, a sense of belonging to the whole. If they are slow, hold back a bit. To cover well the whole set needs to be conscious of the whole group and to have that consciousness needs some level of communication between the members of the set. By dancing together the whole set becomes a social unit. If you all take pride in your covering then you will enjoy the social aspects of dancing even more.


Jean Milligan wrote a large number of instructions in the use of hands; typical of these is the following:

“In all formations it is advisable to give hands freely and wherever possible, as not only is it very helpful, but it adds greatly to the social feeling of the dance. It also helps to maintain the shape of the set and to keep the lines straight.”

You can communicate so much with your hands, in a circle you can indicate that you are going to drop hands and give a little squeeze to a member of the opposite sex to say good bye. When you change places with a member of the opposite sex in Rights and Lefts I was taught to ‘Hold, Smile, Squeeze and pass on with a gentle caress’. When men change they can hold hands firmly and stare into each other’s eyes as if to say “I’m going to dance with your partner next time”. Lead, assist and help the others by giving hands and you will enjoy your dancing even more