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RSCDS London branch eUpdate 19 April 2020

Dear fellow dancers

Another weekend in lock down, softened slightly by some welcome sunshine and the hope of gentler days to come.  The fading daffodils are now supplemented by emerging bluebells, cherry blossom, laburnum and other spring flowers which have lifted the mundane exercise of walking round my suburban block into something more joyful and rewarding. 

Also rewarding was the RSCDS virtual class on Wednesday evening which, once again, attracted an attendance of well over 1200 people from around the world and provided a great lift to the spirits.

In this week's class, Mervyn Short encouraged us to practice dances at home, testing our memory by making ourselves first couple (or part of first couple) and working our way through the whole dance. Most of us are accustomed to dancing with 'ghosts' when a class lacks quite the right number of people for a set (although it's usually just one or 2 ghosts at any one time rather than the 6-7 required in our current lock down environment). An alternative, which reached us by a circuitous route from 2014 Crufts via South Africa and the Hurlingham Club, may be of interest to those of us without dance partners in the home but with a resident dog or cat. Anyone want to take the challenge?

Elsewhere in this eUpdate we include the solution to last week's Spot the Difference puzzle, a new Word-Search and another set of Scottish dance videos from the archives.  

Please do let us know if you find something to share with fellow London dancers. Quizzes, favourite dance videos and memories of dancing in times past - all welcomed.  Tell us about your favourite dance - its history, music, how to dance it,  share your experiences of  Summer/Winter school or of dancing around the world!   

We miss you and we look forward to hearing from you

RSCDS Dance Scottish at Home. 
This week's 'Dance Scottish at Home' newsletter noted 1200 dancers/logins, to the Wednesday online class thanks to its newly extended Zoom facility (previously capped at 1000). However, each 'dancer'/'log-in' potentially represented 1, 2 or more people as individuals, couples and families, danced together in person and in spirit, raising the total number of participants significantly. 

Mervyn Short took the class through a series of warm up and cool down exercises to the music of Ian Muir and the Craigellachie Band. The exercises were fun, challenging in places and perfectly suited to dancing in small spaces. As in the previous week's class, it was wonderful to take part in a truly global lesson and to watch as the comments and greetings poured in from all over the world.  NB: for anyone who enjoyed the comments but found that they obscured their view of the teacher, it's worth while spending a few minutes,before the class starts in earnest, clicking on the  chat box and moving it to another part of the screen. 

Many thanks to Mervyn and to the RSCDS team for another excellent class.

If you didn't manage to join Mervyn's class this week, or if you would like to see it again, the link is here and Angela Young's class form the previous week may still be accessed here. Next week's class, with a different teacher, will be at 7pm on Wednesday and available via this link (same link every week). 

For more information on this plus puzzles, podcasts, challenges and so much more - here is the Week 4 edition of Dance Scottish at Home.  (Previous editions available here Week 3Week 2Week 1). 

Future editions will celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day on 8 May and the 200th Anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth.  RSCDS is appealing for stories of where, when and how Scottish dance and music featured in the 1945 celebrations and stories of how present day members and fellow dancers are supporting us all through their  work in health, social care and other vital roles. There must be lots of London content so please do send to
Three of my favourite dances – Stephen Webb
It has been a great pleasure to receive details of favourite dances nominated by London branch members. It is always interesting to learn more about the background to a dance but I have appreciated the opportunity  to discover what has made it special to a fellow dancer. 

Following selections from Simon Wales ( The Dancing MasterAutumn in Appin and John of Bon Accord) and Meryl Thomson (The New Rigged ShipThe Rakes of Glasgow and The Montgomeries’ Rant) – this week we are pleased to share dances selected by Stephen Webb. 

Whether you have been dancing a long time or just started, please do tell us what YOUR choices would be? Email to tell us about them.

Jig- The Starry Eyed Lassie from Book 23 No.11.
With Books 22 & 23 we see the Society’s first departure from only publishing collected traditional dances to modern dances but in a traditional form. This one was devised by London Branch member Martin Sprague In 1967.

I like it because it takes me back to South Africa where I started SCD and in 1971 I travelled to a weekend school at Van Reenen on the border of OFS and Natal Provinces, my first and this dance was taught there.

As a dance it ticks many boxes for me. The jig music ‘Miss Elizabeth Ferguson’s Favourite’ fits the movements perfectly. The start of RHA with the cast off immediately gives the progression followed by set advancing into double triangles has light and shade. Now we see the Saltire crisply shown. That is followed by reels of three across with a difference which requires the 1C to shorten their steps to finish on the opposite side. So up to this point we have danced with pas de basque and skip change and now comes the slip step which is danced with control because in six steps dancers are halfway, no returning but crossing over and a smooth flow into RHA again.

It is a deceptively simple dance and for men their partner is of course always 'The Starry Eyed Lassie'.

Reel - Sleepy Maggie from Book 11 No.5.
This reel is far from sleepy especially the way Frank Reid plays it. From the very first note it bursts into life. Four hands round then the 1C are held to the spot to set and cast off. The pace slows slightly to go in to RHA & LHA back but with a difference because 1C need to think ahead on bar 16 to finish this facing 1st corners. Now to the traditional 16 bar ending seen in Speed the Plough, Duke of Perth and many more which again requires skill to phase well showing off the pas de basque as a travelling step.

Strathspey - Up in the Air from Book 20 No. 2.
My last choice is the strathspey Up in the Air and once again it is the music that is so great. A strong strathspey with a super tune, once heard never forgotten. The tune is Sir George Clark of Pennycuik by Nathaniel Gow and like Robert Bremner’s Sleepy Maggie dates from the 18th century.

When I took my teacher’s final certificate in St Andrews in 1977 with Miss M examining I sought advice from Miss Winifred Carnie who was playing for me as to what tune I should use for step practice. She suggested Sir George ... adding it is Miss M’s favourite tune. In the exam Miss M complimented me on my choice of tune.

Now to the dance, again phrasing plays a big part in executing this well and the concept of just in time dancing can be used to perfection with the essential aspect of SCD, thinking ahead. Starting with great partner interaction casting off and looking across from behind the lines followed by all surging in for the start of the promenade (I like the 2&3C to dance in on bar 8) then the careful phrasing by 1C with extended steps to reach 1st corners, after setting to corners the second step being used to finish on opposite sides then to drive the six hands round halfway and finish in straight lines on the side requiring poise to advance and retire followed by the finale of turn both hands with the great covering needed at the end.

A great dance with a great tune and for me also special memories.

Scottish Dance Videos

This week's videos feature the great classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

The first, video is 'Mr Menuhin's Welcome to Blair Castle'. Produced in 1974 it follows Yehudi Menuhin as he explores the world of Scottish traditional fiddle music.
The second shows the opening ceremony of the 1986 Commonwealth games in Edinburgh which featured Yehudi Menuhin plus Scottish Country dancers and fiddle orchestra.

Peter Knight notes that Vera Simm taught the dancers for the games; apart from Andrew Gilles, Stuart Adam is about the second couple coming on, Francis Gordon from Edinburgh plus several others.
Yehudi was determined to play a solo for the dancing, but the BBC tactfully had the other players.  Vera had an urgent call from the BBC to take 8 dancers to the studio where they were rehearsing, so that Yehudi could watch the dancers for the tempo; but he always plays with his eyes shut! (watch him).  Vera, being Vera,  told him to watch the dancers; the BBC were horrified that she had the temerity to speak to the Maestro like that!

Thanks again to Peter Knight and to Meryl and Ian Thomson for sourcing and making available these lovely films.
With thanks to Thelma-Jane Robb who,created the puzzle. Did you find them all? I thought I'd got most but managed to miss the flowers from my own dress...

This week Thelma has provided a word search with an added puzzle.  It features dances from a recent London branch event  - but which one?  
Some of my favourite dances here, including one of Stephen Webb's featured dances The Starry Eyed Lassie, as well as the Deil amang the Tailors, played so beautifully in the Yehudi Menuhin film earlier in this eUpdate. 

NHS advice on keeping yourself well:

  • wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
  • always wash your hands when you get home or into work
  • use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterwards
  • try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell

Government advice here:
RSCDS Blog here:

We look forward to dancing with you soon.
Copyright © 2020 RSCDS London Branch, All rights reserved.

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