Scottish Country Dancing

Scottish country dancing has developed over many centuries as native Scottish folk dances absorbed influences from the elegant European courts. During the reign of Henry VIII of England the folk dances of the English and Scottish countryside captured the fancy of the sophisticates at Court. The furor over the “couples” style of dancing which was then in vogue on the Continent was beginning to die down and the “avant garde” were looking for something new. By the time of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, various formations, the teamwork of two or more couples and specific names had become associated with some dances.

The Scots made the country dances their own by incorporating intricate and precise steps and figures from their Highland reels. The Scottish dancing teachers, trained in France, taught the dances using French terms, such as allemande, pas-de-basque and promenade. With foot and leg positions similar to ballet and the spirit of ballroom dancing, Scottish country dancing is graceful and elegant.

Characteristically, Scottish country dancing consists of two lines of dancers, men on one side facing women on the other. Most dances are dances of progression in which each couple executes a series of figures with one or two of the other couples and progresses along the line to repeat the figures with each participating couple. Couples move up and down the line until each has been in the lead position.

There are three dance types, distinguished by their tempos; lively reels, moderately fast jigs and slow strathspeys. There are only five steps in the traditional dances; the skip change of step (for traveling), the slip step (traveling in a sideways direction) and the pas de basques (for setting) are used in jigs and reels. The other two steps appear only in the strathspey.

The Loch Norman Highland Games would like to thank Eilean Yates for her years of service directing Scottish Country Dancing. Eilean is a native of Hawick in the Scottish Border country who learned Scottish Country Dancing in her early school days. In 1984, Eilean co-founded the Shelby Scottish Country Dancers and led the group for nineteen years until she moved to Fearrington, she is now teaching in the Chapel Hill /Durham area.