FOTOGALERIE      Czech  |   English  |  

Scottish Dances

 Scottish country dances originate from dances which were popular in England and Scotland during the 18th century. They are danced by groups of three, four or five couples who form a so-called set. The most common sets are longwise sets where the dancers stand adjacent to each other in two parallel lines, with the men facing the ladies, and square sets where each of the four couples stands on one side of the square. Most dances comprise a combination of solo formations danced by the first couple and formations danced by the first couple together with the other dancers. The arrangement of these formations in a different sequence for each dance leads to numerous combinations. There are approximately 7000 different dances, of which about 1000 are danced frequently in Scotland and beyond. Many dances come from historical sources such as manuscripts and printed collections of dances, but many have also been composed more recently. It is this combination of a historical dancing tradition and modern elements which make Scottish country dances so appealing.

There are approximately twelve basic dance formations which, once mastered, should enable the dancer to dance almost any of the dances. However, many of the dances contain their own particular variations which make each dance different, unique and fun. To dance Scottish country dances properly one also has to master particular dance steps which require precision and refinement.

In terms of music and rhythm, Scottish country dances can be divided into reels, jigs and strathspeys. The instruments most often used to accompany dancers are the violin, accordion, flute, piano and double bass. An integral part of these dances is dance etiquette, which stems from the fact that the social character of Scottish country dancing is very important (smiling and eye contact with other dancers are almost obligatory) and the dances even provide an opportunity for playful flirtation. Dance events have a particular set of rules, the dances and the order in which they are to be danced are often known in advance.

Country dances began to be danced in Scotland in the 18th century and their origins can be traced back to French quadrilles, which influenced social dancing throughout Europe and, later, in America too. They were particularly popular among the inhabitants of large towns and cities and throughout the 19th and 20th centuries they spread throughout the whole of Scotland. At this time Scottish dances were influenced by new dances such as the waltz, polka, one-step and others. Elements of Highland dancing were also incorporated into country dancing. In 1923, the Scottish Country Dance Society (from 1954, the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society) was founded in Glasgow and began collecting and preserving Scottish country dances. The RSCDS achieved this by transcribing dances from old manuscripts, publishing these dances and setting standards for the technical requirements of steps and formations. In addition to this the RSCDS also trains teachers of Scottish country dancing, produces its own audio recordings with dance music and video cassettes with examples of the most popular dances as well as organising a large number of events including balls, courses and workshops. The RSCDS has grown into a large international organisation with 25000 members in branches worldwide from Canada to Japan.

It is worth mentioning so-called Ceilidh dances. Ceilidh is the Gaelic word for a gathering at which spontaneous singing, verse, dancing and music takes place, usually in a person's house. However, there is very little connection between today's 'ceilidh' dancing and the original meaning of the word. Ceilidh dancing today usually refers to couple dancing as opposed to country dancing in sets of couples. Ceilidh dances, which are relatively simple, can be danced by any number of couples usually forming one large circle around the room, with partners being changed during some of the dances.


The following dances are some of those we teach. Most of them are ceilidh dances, which are easy to learn and thus enabling even a complete beginner to enjoy the dances.

Cumberland Reel

Jig : 4 couples : 32 bars : Beg
1-41st and 2nd couples give right hands to one another and dance round "Four hands across" (Fig. A).
5-8 Turn, and giving left hands, dance back to places.
9-121st couple lead down the middle,
13-16and up again.
17-281st woman casts off, turning to the right behind the women, while 1st man casts off, turning to the left behind the men, the other men and women following (Fig. B) for six steps, then lead up the middle to places for six steps. On 6th step 1st couple turn to face down. All other couples join hands with partners to make arch.
29-321st couple dance down the middle under their arms.
On the last bar all drop hands and step back. The 1st couple remain at the bottom of the dance, and the 2nd couple repeat the figure.
Music:Cumberland Reel
Publication:RSCDS Scottish Country Dance Book IDevisor: UnknownSource: Book I

The Britannia Twostep

Other : 3 persons : 16 bars
Formation: in threes around the room facing anti-clockwise, man between two ladies.
1Nearer hands joined, touch the left heel then the left toe to the floor, bouncing on the right foot with each touch.
2All skip to the left for one step.
3-4Repeat bars 1-2 with the opposite feet.
5-8Skip forward for two steps, then backwards for two steps.
9-10Set on the spot facing forwards.
11-12Still setting, the man raises his arms and the ladies turn underneath.
13-16Skip forward for two steps, then backwards for two steps.
Repeat ad lib.
Music:The Muckin' O' Geordie's Byre
Publication:Collins Pocket ReferenceDevisor: UnknownSource: ScottishDance.Net

Circassian Circle

Reel : 2 couples : 32 bars
The dancers stand in fours, all round the room, each man having his partner on his right side, and another couple opposite, everyone dancing at the same time.
1-2Right and left. That is, the men give their right hands to the opposite women and cross over, changing places with them (Fig. A).
3-4The men give left hands to their partners, and change places with them (Fig. B).The couples have now changed places.
5-8Right and left again. The couples regaining their original places.
9-12Set to partners, twice.
13-16Turn partners with both hands.
17-20Ladies chain. That is, women give right hands to one another, cross over and turn the opposite man round by the left hand. Men dance into partner's place to receive and turn opposite woman.
21-24The same again. This time the women turn their own partners.
25-32Poussette to change places with opposite couples, thus progressing one place clockwise or counter-clockwise.
Repeat, having passed a couple.
Music:Circassian CircleHornpipeEast Neuk of Fife
Note:This dance is the same as the 1st figure of Quadrille.
Publication:RSCDS Scottish Country Dance Book IDevisor: UnknownSource: Book I

Dashing White Sergeant

Reel : 3 couples facing 3 couples : 32 bars
In groups of six round the room. No. 1 facing No. 2, No. 3 facing No. 4, and so on.
1-4Six hands round,
5-8And back again.
9-10The centre man and woman set to woman and man on their right,
11-12And turn them.
13-14Then set to woman (or man) on their left.
15-16And turn them.
17-24Reels of three (the three No. 1'a, three No. 2's, etc).
25-28Each triplet taking hands, they advance and retire.
29-32Advance again through the opposite three, passing right shoulders to meet the next three.
Repeat with next three.
Music:The Dashing White Sergeant
Note:This can be danced either with each triplet composed of a man and two women, or a man between two women, facing a woman between two men.
Publication:RSCDS Scottish Country Dance Book IIIDevisor: UnknownSource: Book III

Circle Waltz

Waltz : Other : 32 bars
Formation: one big circle facing the middle, men having their partners on their right, all joining hands and beginning with the right foot.
1-2Balance forward and back.
3-4Men, releasing their partner's hand, with both hands swing the woman on their left in front of them to finish on their right.
5-16Repeat this THREE more times and hold onto the woman facing her and taking ballroom hold, stand side towards centre of room.
17-20Men begin left foot, partner right foot, and moving towards the centre, step close, step close, then - step close step.
21-24Repeat but moving towards the wall.
25-32Waltz round the room, reforming the circle to begin again.
Music:None recommended
Publication:Collins Pocket ReferenceDevisor: Alex MooreSource: Website

The Highland Fair

Jig : 2 couples : 32 bars
1-81st couple cast off and dance down behind own line for 4 skip change of step, turn outwards and dance 4 steps back to place.
9-161st and 2nd couples turn partner with right hand and return to place - 4 skip change of step, then repeat giving left hand.
17-241st couple followed by 2nd couple lead down the middle for 4 skip change of step. They turn and, 2nd couple leading, they lead up the middle 4 steps to finish. 2nd couple at top and 1st couple in second place (Figs. A and B).
25-321st and 2nd couples dance right and left all the way round.
Repeat, having passed a couple.
Music:Muirland Willie
Publication:Book of Graded Scottish Country DancesDevisor: UnknownSource: Book of Graded SCDs

Flowers of Edinburgh

Reel : 3 couples : 32 bars
1W, followed by prtnr, cast off 2 pl, W cross to M side, M to centre, dance up to prtnrs pl and set. Repeat with M leading. 1s lead down middle and up. 1s and 2s poussette.
1-61st woman turns round by the right and casts off two places, ie. passes down behind the 2nd and 3rd women; crosses over, casts up two places, passing up behind the 2nd and 3rd men, ending in her partner's place (Fig. A). At the same time the 1st man follows his partner, crossing over and passing behind the 2nd and 3rd women, then up the middle, ending in his partner's place (Fig. B).
7-8They set to one another.
9-14The same again, but this time the man leads, as in Fig. A, and the woman follows, as in Fig.B. They end in their original places.
15-16Set to one another.
17-201st couple lead down the middle
21-24and up again.
25-321st and 2nd couple poussette.
Repeat, having passed a couple.
Music:The Flowers of Edinburgh
Publication:RSCDS Scottish Country Dance Book IDevisor: UnknownSource: Book I

Johnny Groaťs House

Reel : 3 couples : 32 bars
1-41st couple, with both hands joined, slip 4 steps down the middle between 2nd couple, and 4 steps up again.
5-81st couple cast off one place, meet in the middle and join both hands. 2nd couple move up.
9-161st couple repeat bars 1-8 with 3rd couple, and finish in 3rd place.
17-241st, 2nd and 3rd couples dance six hands round and back again.
25-321st couple with 4 steps lead up to the top, set and cast off into second place. 3rd couple move down.
Repeat, having passed a couple.
Music:Johnny Groat's HouseThe Caithness Reel
Publication:RSCDS Scottish Country Dance Book XVIIIDevisor: Rutherford, circa 1748Source: Book XVIII

Strip the Willow

Formation:Longwise sets of 4 couples, men on the right and ladies on the left as viewed from the band. Couples number from nearest the band.
Music:6/8 or 9/8 jigs.
1-81st couple spin RH.
9-161st lady turns 2M LH, partner RH, 3M LH, partner RH, 4M LH.
17-24Spin with partner RH to the end of the phrase.
25-321st man turns 4L LH, partner RH, 3L LH, partner RH, 2L LH.
33-40Spin with partner RH to the end of the phrase.
41-481st lady works down men, while 1st man works down ladies, turning 2C LH, partner RH, 3C LH, partner RH, 4C LH.
49-56Spin with partner RH to the end of the phrase.
Next couple starts when 1st couple start spinning at the bottom for the last time.

Waltz Country Dance

Waltz : 2 couples : 40 bars
All set to opposite, change pl RSh, repeat with ptnr. Repeat all. All (with hands) balance forward and back, then M pass W on their their R. Repeat 3 times. Poussette to change pl.
Stand in fours round the room, as in Fig.
1-2Each man and woman sets to the man or woman opposite,
3-4and crosses to change places, passing right shoulder, woman making a waltz turn by the right and men moving straight forward.
5-8Set to partners and again change places.
9-12Repeat bars 1-4.
13-16Set to partners and change places.
17-18All four taking hands, balance forward and backward.
19-20Men continuing to balance on spot turn the woman on their left to the place on their right (with both hands).
21-24The same again (bars 17-20).
25-28The same again.
29-32The same again.
33-40Poussette passing couple with whom they have just danced to meet the next couple.
Music:Come o'er the Stream, CharlieSpeed, Bonny Boat
Note:Steps used in ľ time pas de basque, omitting 4th beat. Change of step omitting skip.
Publication:RSCDS Scottish Country Dance Book IVDevisor: UnknownSource: Book IVOrigin: "The Ballroom", 1827