What is Scottish Country Dancing?
Scottish country dancing (SCD) is social group dancing first popularized in Scotland during the 18th century. SCD was revived and standardized by the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (RSCDS) during the 1920s, and has been going strong ever since.
Often called the “traditional ballroom dancing of Scotland,” it resemble Contra dance, square dance and English country dancing more than modern ballroom dancing. Like those dance forms, Scottish country dancing is done with partners in sets of couples, and uses many of the same formations or figures, though they may have different names.
Most Scottish country dances are done in “longwise” sets (like Contra dances) of four couples. A few are done in square sets.
The music of SCD, featuring lively jigs and reels, stately Strathspeys, and elegant airs, is what first attracts many people. You may be familiar with these tunes if you do other forms of folk and country dancing. Many traditional Contra dances, for example, are done to Scottish tunes.
Scottish country dancing has its own characteristic styling, with footwork/steps being one of the most obvious differences. The Scots were friendly with the French, and Scottish country dancing was heavily influenced by ballet, evidence of which can be seen in the steps and even in some of the names of the figures.
Want to Learn Scottish Country Dance?
There are two periods of the year specifically geared toward new dancers. For six weeks in September-October (starting two weeks after Labor Day), the Royal Scottish Dance Society offers free dance classes specifically geared toward newcomers. Dancers who are experienced in Contra or English country dancing will have little trouble picking up the basic formations (though there are some definite styling differences), but the footwork can take some time to learn.
There is also a 4-week introductory course in late January/early February geared toward beginners. The cost for the series is $12 ($10 for Tapestry members).
These newcomer classes start at 7 pm, rather than the usual 7:30 start time. Newcomers will have an opportunity to become a member of the RSCDS and continue to attend classes and dances. Membership is $50 for the entire year and dance classes are then free. You can choose not to become a member and then the classes are $3 a session.
Once the regular sessions begin again, the time of the dance changes to 7:30 pm. Dances outside of these introductory periods are not specifically designed for beginners, but newcomers are welcome in the fall, winter and spring. There are also summer sessions for more advanced dancers.
Royal Scottish Country Dance Society
RSCDS Twin Cities Branch is a Tapestry rental partner with a long-standing relationship that goes back many years. RSCDS has shared space with Tapestry since the mid-1990s and has always shared the goal of creating opportunities for sharing the joy of dance and music.
For most of RSCDS members, the social dance evenings, usually with live music, and two formal balls, are the real highlights of each year. Members also do performances at various venues around the Twin Cities.
Who Does Scottish Country Dancing?
SCD is popular around the world! Despite the origins and continued connection with Scotland, most Scottish country dancers aren’t actually Scottish. There are groups across Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand, and places as far flung as Japan and South Africa. Here in the Twin Cities, the RSCDS community includes about 80 members, ranging in age from teens to seniors and with previous dance experience ranging from zero to extensive. Fer Horn, Ed Stern, and Jamie Berg are among familiar Tapestry international folk and Contra dancers you might see on Monday evenings.
Info provided by Lara Friedman-Shedlov, a teacher and past chair of the RSCDS Twin Cities Branch, and Fer Horn.