The end of July is the time of year when schools close, offices and businesses, in theory, relax a little, and people pack their bags for holidays at home and abroad. For many Scottish Country dancers across the world, the late July/early August destination of choice is the RSCDS Summer School in St Andrews.
Whilst COVID-19 prevents us from meeting in St Andrews, we have some compensations, not least in the video compilation, featured below, showing highlights of the RSCDS 60th Summer School. It is fabulously evocative not only of the celebration of an important RSCDS anniversary but also as a reminder of the joys of summer school. I enjoyed seeing familiar places in more formal guise (waitress service and black tie in the dining hall) and spotting fellow London dancers in among the crowds. But I felt a real pang when watching it, as for so many other people, St Andrews is a big part of my summer and I’m really going to miss it.
However, further compensation is available with the RSCDS “Dance Scottish – A Summer Celebration” which begins tomorrow and runs until Saturday. There is an enticing programme of events. No two evenings will be the same – we are promised different teachers, different dances, fantastic music, international schools, step dancing for all. Sign in is available from 19:45 each night withe the events of the evening beginning at 20:00. Use this link to join the fun. The same link will work each evening and, for those who cannot join during the evening, recordings will be swiftly available for you to enjoy at your leisure. Musicians have additional online material with the Virtual Musicians' Workshops on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday - click on this link to learn more. The week culminates on Saturday 1 August in an evening of dance featuring dances chosen by Dance Scottish at Home readers. Don't miss it!
A few weeks further ahead still, the London Branch AGM will take place via Zoom on Saturday, 19th September, The AGM itself will be followed by a short programme of ceilidh items. More information in the coming weeks but meanwhile, if you would like to know more about the ceilidh or to offer some music, dance or other item contact Simon Wales via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Scottish Dance Videos
This week's video we hope will help to compensate, in some small way, for the cancellation of this year's RSCDS Summer School at St. Andrews. The 1 hour 26 mins. video is a wonderful compilation of the highlights of the RSCDS 60th Summer School in 1991. We are sure it will serve as a reminder of the joys of summer school.
Thanks again to Peter Knight and to Meryl and Ian Thomson for sourcing and making available these lovely films.
Three of my favourite dances – David Lowe
Following last week's selections from Jenny Kendrick, this week dances are selected by David Lowe, who dances with the Park Walk Improvers class.
As an Improver who has attended classes at Chelsea in the last two and a half years, plus a number of the half-term and end-of-term dances and a couple of formal balls, my memories are not of long standing and few if any of the dances I might mention are ones that I could claim to have mastered, or even thoroughly to have learnt. But the genius of Scottish Dancing is its capacity, once one has learned the moves, to be enjoyable at any level of accomplishment, and it is on enjoyment that I have concentrated in my selection.
It wouldn't do for the same dances to be named week after week, and avoiding duplication with previous selections does take out a number of dances of which I am particularly fond, including Mairi's Wedding, Flowers of Edinburgh, Pelorus Jack and Dreamcatcher. But one of the best features of the RSCDS approach is the number of dances that one encounters even over a single year of classes, so that poses no difficulty.
Postie's Jig x 32 bar Jig - Devised by Roy Clowes - Ormskirk Book 5, No. 1
A lively jig, in which, after some half figures of eight, one "ties up the parcel" with a series of arches and turns, all the way round a square formed by two of the couples. I remember dancing this in a ball that catered for country dancers in one half of the room and reelers in the other half. The set I was in formed the border between the two and was composed half and half between the two groups, so oscillated wildly in style and vigour: exhausting, but very enjoyable.
The Wind on Loch Fyne x 32 bar Strathspey - Devised by John Bowie Dickson - Dunedin Dances Book 1, No. 4
This is still very much in learning for me, and I have attempted it in social dancing only once, but the Strathspey imparts a real elegance, and I like the oddity (from my very limited experience) of the triangular set used in this particular dance.
Eightsome Reel x 464 bar Reel - RSCDS Book 2, No. 12
This would probably not be top of the RSCDS list for elegance or subtlety, but it's not hard to see why it is a real favourite, particularly with reelers. It is a very satisfying workout for all involved and has the especial merit of providing a prescribed set of moves and steps, but with a great deal of opportunity for ad-lib variations by the more experienced dancers.
Whether you have been dancing a long time or just started, please do tell us what YOUR choices would be? Email email@example.com to tell us about them.
Previous weeks' selections
We've begun to compile dances nominated in previous weeks into dance lists on the my.strathspey.org site, with the person nominated each dance cited in the notes column.
To check out the dances nominated in the first 6 weeks click here. More recent nominations are shown below.
Many readers will have enjoyed London branch member,Sam Schad's classes, perhaps most recently at the 2019 London branch day school. During lockdown, Sam has continued to teach - but online.
If you had told me a few months ago that I would be teaching a Scottish country dance class from my kitchen I would have thought you were mad. In fact I started off teaching a highland class, inspired by the step class taught by Kate Gentles (from her kitchen) in Cambridge. I was initially reluctant, as I am not even a proper highland dancer, let alone a highland teacher, but in the end I was bullied into it by my daughter Beth. As well as the RSCDS Wednesday classes, we had been going along to country dance classes run by the Munich Scottish Association. A series of teachers taught ordinary country dances, mostly for three-couple sets, and just assumed you could manage with ghosts. And we found we could. So once I'd exhausted my highland repertoire I switched to country.
I thought this would be easier, but teaching country dancing on Zoom to invisible people, most of whom are on their own, is a very different kettle of fish from teaching a class in the flesh. I usually teach students, and there is a tendency for some of the dancers to turn up late or leave early, so the numbers tend to fluctuate, and I have to think on my feet, adjusting the programme to the numbers (we usually have two sets at most). In a Zoom class, it doesn't matter how many people come, or when. So I can plan my programme to the last detail in advance.
What I am not good at normally is dancing and teaching simultaneously. In my normal class if I am dancing and go wrong, the other dancers soon put me right. In my kitchen class, I have only my partner (my daughter, Beth) to help. She is a great partner, but I still have to concentrate very hard. I am aware of a responsbility to those watching who are counting on us to get it right. I don't always manage it!
I have also learnt from other people's classes what works well and what doesn't. I find reels quite tricky with ghosts, especially reels of four. Square sets are not really feasible in a small space. We have gone in for a bit of modification, e.g. of down the middle and up, as most people don't have a long enough room. I was hugely impressed by Sue Porter who removed all the furniture from her living room in order to teach the RSCDS online class. Our dedication doesn't extend to this. Besides, the kitchen counters are set in stone.
My class has for many years enjoyed the help of Sylvester (the Spectre), more recently joined by Heidi, who is blonde and Bavarian. David Queen pointed out that you could pick your favourite dancers as ghosts in your set, but I'm happy with Sylvester. He's tall, dark and handsome, and does very fine highland.
Sam's class is on Tuesday evenings, usually 7-8.30pm. This week's class will be shorter (7-8pm) because of the RSCDS Summer Celebration, followed by a 2 week break. To join the class, use this link.
Our jigsaw this week is inspired by ‘The Wind on Loch Fyne’ nominated by David Lowe as one of his favourite dances. The search for a suitable, jigsaw friendly, image of a windy day on Loch Fyne was hampered by the fact that most of the photos available online show a calm, windfree environment - beautiful but not exactly conveying an image of the dance's title.
So instead, we have an image of a Loch Fyne skiff. ‘The Wind on Loch Fyne’ is the title of a collections of poetry, published in 1948 by George Campbell Hay (1915-1984) who worked aboard the herring skiff Liberator in the 1930s and so knew the waters of the Clyde's fishing grounds intimately.
RSCDS Dance Scottish at Home.
There have been two editions of Dance Scottish at Home since our last eUpdate, both packed with news, history, dances, puzzles and of, course, links to the weekly online class. You can enjoy the content from this week and last, via the links provided.
This week's online class came from Boston, USA, courtesy of Robert McOwen, accompanied beautifully by his wife Barbara on the fiddle. Robert took us through a meticulously planned explanation of the dance “Hame Came our Gudeman” from RSCDS Book 30, employing chairs, diagrams and clear formation breakdowns to help the 1000+ dancers, and accompanying ghosts, gain maximum enjoyment and benefit from his engaging class.
You can catch up with this week’s class and some of the chat here.
The week before we'd enjoyed a different but no less stimulating class from Samuele Graziani, in Bologna, Italy. Samuele really kept us moving as he progressed rapidly through through warm up, step practice and a breakdown of the Highland Scottische Poussette before being joined by his wife and family to dance “The Trysting Place” by Iain Boyd from RSCDS Book 35.
We will continue to include links from Dance Scottish at Home but, if you'd like your own personal copy simply visit www.rscds.org, scroll to the bottom of the homepage and complete your details in the ‘Sign up for the RSCDS eNewsletter’ section. It’s quick and easy! There is also a DSAH webpage where you can access previous issues of the Dance Scottish At Home eNewsletter and view all of the Zoom online classes to date – visit www.rscds.org/get-involved/dance-scottish-home.