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History of Scottish Country Dancing

Scottish Country Dancing is the distinctly Scottish form of the country dance and is derived mainly from the English style of the 17th Century’s “longways for as many as will” dances which often used Scottish tunes. It  first appeared in the 17th century English historical records and became the national ballroom dance form in Scotland.

After the political union of Scotland and England in 1707, the country dance culture of England spread to Lowland Scotland. In the 1700s, many country dances were held in grand, elegant halls and attended by prosperous members of society. In 1723, the first public assembly room opened in Edinburgh. The dances became high fashion and acquired a standardized form. Techniques were influenced by the dance styles of the period and the traditions of the reels danced in the Scottish countryside.

While country dancing had been limited to the more affluent, by the late 18th century it became popular among Scots of all backgrounds. Dancing schools sprang up in towns and cities. Dancing masters, called dancies, went from town to town in the rural areas, many carrying their fiddle to play accompanying their teaching. When it first became popular, it was a shorter, quicker form of dance.

In the later part of the 19th and 20th centuries, newer dance forms became popular, and the country dance lost its popularity. The tradition of dancing in the Scottish regiments helped its survival. And in 1923, the Scottish Country Dance Society was formed to preserve the dances. They researched old dance publications and published authoritative dance descriptions. From 1923 till the start of WWII, they published only traditional dances still being danced or that could be verified from traditional sources. Several Scottish manuscript collections have survived from the 17th century. New dances have been devised which, along with the older ones, are danced around the world,

Following the appearance of the country dance in Scotland in the early 18th Century, it underwent changes and adopted some of the characteristics of other dance forms such as Scotch Reels, Quadrilles and Waltzes.  French dancers and teachers brought the French ballet foot positions, terminology, and ballroom etiquette.

Scotland, of course, had other traditions of dance and the country dances incorporated features from older Strathspeys, Reels, and Rants. The result was a style of dance with which the whole of Scottish society could feel comfortable; the elegance and courtesy of the ‘country dance’ and the energy and step precision of the old ‘reels’.

Today, care is taken to preserve the technique of the dances while still enjoying the social aspects. This is not Highland Dance, but is the social dance done in groups.

Find a teacher and classes: rscdsboston.org

  • Pat Tillotson

    Pat has gone through her teaching exams with the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society and currently teaches the Brunswick, Maine class, having taught for 21 years. She also organizes a demonstration group who perform at various locations in Maine. Having run a Bookstore for dancers in the past, she has accumulated a large collection of dances and music for them. Pat currently is the Past President of the St Andrews Society of Maine.

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