February 2013     A NEWSLETTER    No. 132


What is “proper Scottish Dancing?” In the last Broun’s Reel, I argued that for too many people ceilidh dancing was not “proper” Scottish dancing, and I wrote positively about it.  I promised an answer to the question in this editorial; be patient!  And when you get to the end, please remember that I never promised it would be the right answer!

For a lot of people, “proper” Scottish Dancing  consists of a jig, reel or strathspey of 32 bars, and danced 8 times through, with three couples in a four couple longwise set. What was that you said? Oh yes, you know that 8 x 32 is normal for a strathspey, but you think that it really ought to be replaced by 3 x 32 or 4 x 32 strathspeys these days.  Unless it’s one of your favourite dances and it’s a 4 couple square set like Robertson Rant (but definitely not Clutha, not a proper Scottish dance at all), or a five couple dance like Miss Johnstone of Ardrossan – and so long as it is one of your favourites.

However, “proper” Scottish Dancing for many people would not include any dances with running steps or Highland steps, and I would suspect that many newer dancers in particular would never even have come across any at all, unless they’ve done Burnaby at Forty from the recent Diamond Jubilee Collection.  Yet these are features which have appeared in dances published by the RSCDS, with two of the earliest dances collected by the RSCDS being Strip the Willow (Book 1) and Haymakers (Book 2) both in running step.  Book 2 also has strange things like The Bumpkin (9 dancers in the set), Glasgow Highlanders (strange set, and a Highland setting step) and the Princess Royal (24 bars only).  And don’t even mention the Eightsome Reel…

It’s amazing to think that many of these authentic traditional Scottish dances would now be seen as anomalous, even though a fair proportion of the early dances were not of the 8x32, 4 couple longwise set type! We do seem to have become much more restrictive as to what we will consider as a proper dance, while some would even consider the 5 couple square set or a triangular set as “modern” and not in the tradition.

So we’ve now got to the point (maybe) where we have to consider running steps and Highland steps as acceptable in Scottish country dances, as well as sets which aren’t composed of 3, 4 or 5 couples in a longwise set (now that last really is recent for the RSCDS) or 4 couples in a square set.  Once you consider waltz steps (Waltz Country Dance) and schottische setting steps (The Trysting Place) as acceptable in Scottish Country Dances, it seems hard to reject waltzes and schottisches from the canon.  And if they can be admitted, then logically other dances from the ceilidh tradition can be admitted?

At one point in the fairly recent past, so I was told, the RSCDS actually considered dropping Ladies’ Stepdance and Highland Dancing from its repertoire.  They would not be taught at Summer School, and nor would they feature in demonstrations; the business of the RSCDS was purely Scottish Country Dancing.  This may, or may not, have been true: I’ve no way of knowing.  Yet now at Summer School there is ceilidh dancing as well as country dancing, and the RSCDS has published its wonderful book and CDs of Ladies’ Step Dances. A major change of heart!

The final step would then be to adopt or recognise other forms of Scottish dancing, like hard-shoe Cape Breton style stepdancing, or Hebridean and Orcadian dancing; get the chance to watch Dannsa if ever you can. Jean McInnes tells me that she didn’t know what Scottish Country Dancing and ceilidh dancing were until she came to England: when she grew up, those were what she did, but it was all just “dancing”.  

I promised you an answer to the question when I began: Scottish Dancing is the dancing which has been danced in Scotland, either traditionally, in the traditional style, or developed from this. The word “Country” makes quite a difference.  And this may not be the answer you wanted after all.

Joyce Cochrane


I've just missed eight months of dancing (and I really have missed it, dreadfully) thanks to injury and a serious knee operation. The sort of operation where they assure you that you'll walk out unaided the same day and you end up on crutches for six weeks; the sort where I'm still not fully better six months later.

Tonight I am going to try dancing again for the first time, and I must admit to being more than a little apprehensive. It's partly a question of pride - I take pleasure in dancing as near perfectly as possible, and that's definitely something I'll have to forego at the moment. It's also an acknowledgement of how physically demanding SCD can be, using muscles which probably aren't employed on a daily basis, and putting a strain on ageing joints. I'd feel better if I could wear a badge saying "Fragile, handle with care", just in case an over-zealous partner whirls me through the dance and inadvertently sets back my recovery, but I don't think wearing badges at York was supposed to include that sort of information.

One particular thing that concerns me is a piece of advice which has been drilled into me time and again both by my physio and my instructor at the gym - always warm up before any form of exercise.  Ian and I started dancing a few years ago at Harrogate Saltire, where they always have a communal warm up before the first dance. This is something which doesn't happen at York or at any of the social dances we've been to, and I'd be interested to know what the RSCDS policy is on warm ups before dancing. Can anyone enlighten me?

It seems to me like a sensible precaution, especially in light of the fact that all too many dancers are advancing in years. Apparently the most likely time for injuries to occur is when one exercises without warming up first, so I wonder if this is something we could implement more widely. In the meantime, if you see me performing some abnormal contortions before I start dancing, you'll know the reason why. 

Carol Hazell, York


At the end of February my three years will be up, and I will finish my last and final time on the committee – at the end of May I will have reached what I think is the age when other people must take over. As a consequence I thought I would look back on how things have changed since Helen & I organised the first meeting in 1975 to see if there was support to start a branch to cover the York & N Humberside area.

We were told by Headquarters that we needed to draw up a constitution, and to get this agreed at a General Meeting. The first committee comprised people who were instructing or teaching in the area, and we met to draw up our Constitution. There was enthusiastic agreement from all for what was at the time a novel idea, i.e. that no member of the committee could serve for more than three continuous years. We also included another idea which has not been as widely accepted by other groups – the branch members elect the committee, but the committee then decides who will be the officers. We took this constitution to the first General Meeting of the branch, and with one small change it was agreed by everyone present. (The original draft had said that one of our aims was “to actively seek out new members”, and there was an objection to the split infinitive – Star Trek has a lot to answer for.)

During the first few years we were very active in starting things – our dances were arranged throughout the area on a monthly basis, with catering being the responsibility of the host group (Faith suppers were some time in the future).

Helen & I bought a more powerful record player to provide music in the years before the branch had built up sufficient funds to buy a some disco equipment (2 turntables, one of which we had modified so that it could very the speed), and the branch gradually acquired its own records.

In October of 1976 we held our first Day School in Bridlington, with two teachers from Leeds, and in November we held our Inaugural Ball in the Woodmansey village hall, just outside Beverley, to the Rattray Band – somehow we managed to squeeze in over a hundred dancers.

We ran a series of teacher training classes, open to everyone, but all of the current group leaders attended. After a few years every group had at least one qualified teacher and often another one or two who had passed the Preliminary test but decided to go no further. We must have been one of the most qualified branches in the world.

As one of the reasons for forming the branch was to enable better communication between the different groups, it was not long before Helen started to produce the branch newsletter four times a year.

In 2015 the branch will have reached its fortieth anniversary, and it is hoped we can produce a booklet of the branch history, showing how things have developed and changed over the years, and reminding us of all those dancing friends who are no longer with us.

If you have any memorabilia, or if you would like to contribute an article to the proposed booklet, will you please contact me.

Malcolm Brown, York


I feel I must respond to a recent editorial in Broun’s Reel which referred to Ceilidh Dancing as ’walking dancing‘.

Many English dances are walked although certain figures such as heys (reels) are often ‘danced’, ie use skip change of step, and swings and baskets use pivot step similar to Highland turns. Hornpipes, vigorous dances in dotted 4/4 rhythm, are danced throughout with step hop or one two three hop known as single or double steps, while dances from the North  East use rant step. Again it involves a lot of hopping and is very strenuous. If you want a demonstration ask Iain Keegan. And then there are the dances that use waltz step, polka steps, pas de basque or skipping.

And what about the Irish Hooley? If you haven’t tried Irish Set Dancing, do give it a whirl. The dances all seem to be in square sets and involve a lot of spinning and turning. There are no specific names; they are just known as jigs or reels and all have numerous figures - so many, in fact, that there are breaks between for drinks! The steps used are danced close to the floor in hard shoes and vary from town to town. I am told one can tell where people come from by the steps they use.

And then there’s the Scottish Ceilidh where energy and enjoyment are of more importance than precise footwork or covering. Like the Irish Hooley this often takes place in the back room of a pub or similar restricted space. It was very popular with young people some twenty plus years ago. I always felt it was a shame that the RSCDS did not take this form of Scottish dancing under its wing in the same way that the EFDSS embraced all types of English song and dance, retaining the particular style of each.

What do you think?

Enid Nunns

Ed. :- Please note that when I said “ceilidh or walking dances”, I was not intending to imply that ceilidh dances were walked; I was giving two alternative styles of dancing which could open a class or dance.


Friday evening classes with Malcolm (and with Helen or Rita when he’s gone off to foreign parts) are always splendid and on the whole funny, perhaps more accurately seriously funny. We had an extra-splendid time recently when, for the whole of the first half of the class, we attempted to dance Schiehallion. First we practised the reels, moderating the length of our steps so that each two bars fitted accurately into the correct pattern and we ‘couldn’t possibly collide with each other’. Then we joined in Malcolm’s demonstration of the rocking step with various degrees of  success; those to whom it was new were advised to dance as women (though that didn’t seem to apply to the four or so ‘real men’ who were there). After that it was time for the actual dance, comprising three renderings of the chorus, each followed by a different figure. After an hour or so sections of each set danced sections of the dance extraordinarily well, though I wouldn’t say there was complete success with all of it anywhere. I do hope we shall do it again and maybe then we’ll all get up to our standard in Father Connelly’s Jig, which now seems to be one of our Club dances...

Driving home, slaloming around traffic-calming structures, I fantasised about adapting the dance for cars at an outdoor event. Little snub-nosed environmentally friendly cars, colour depending on gender, could easily do most of it. The chorus would have to be the reel-time version as I don’t think cars could manage an equivalent of Highland Schottische setting, but the twice-round spin in the middle would be beautiful. Fierce revving could take the place of the rocking step while the feminine cars moving round could  make a quite elegant petronella movement. The rest of the first figure would be OK but rather too swervy and might be best omitted.

The second chorus and second figure should definitely go by the board as it would make the dance too long and boring – after all, a lot of ground space would be needed to allow all the twists and turns so it would take far longer than dancers would to do the whole thing. The third figure would be the crowning glory, the turning and circling difficult but not impossible and then the Schiehallion reels splendid and so exciting. Essential to be absolutely precise, bonnets would be just missing each other and the audience holding their breath.

I wondered whether horses, bicycles or motor bikes might make good sets too but on the whole cars would be best – not such a hazard for the ‘dancers’ who would nevertheless need enormous skill and lots of practice. I was a bit tempted to go twice round some of the bollards just to get a taste, but refrained. I didn’t mention the matter to my passenger...

Veronica Wallace, York


Please note the change of venue – this dance will now be held at   Askham Bryan  In the last Broun’s Reel, no price was given: tickets are now confirmed as: £15 (RSCDS members) and £17 (non – members), including refreshments.  The band is still David Oswald!


I would like to thank every one who took part in the assessments for the new dances for Book 47 which will be published later this year.   We had a very mixed bag of dances and there were some considerable differences of opinion between the groups for some of them.   The dances were supposed to be written in the standard terminology as recommended by the RSCDS, but I don’t think many of our devisers had access to this so there was an extra challenge for the teachers of the classes who took part.

There were 6 classes/groups from the Branch who took part together with the York SCD Club so you can imagine that the numbers trialling the dances were quite large.

I received a communication from the Convenor of Membership Services, Philip Whitley, which is printed below.

21st December 2012

Dear colleague,

Book 47 Evaluation

Many thanks for taking part in the evaluation of the dances for inclusion in Book 47, the help and views provided in your evaluation sheets was very much appreciated. A number of you made specific suggestions for improvements to the process and these will be taken on board for the evaluation of dances for Book 48:

 - All dances will be subject to a paper based sift prior to being issued to branches for evaluation to ensure that they meet a basic standard;

  - Where original music has been submitted, this will be sent out with the dances so those groups with access to live music can dance these with the music;

- There will be a simplified marking process which will be easier to follow.  

I do hope that your branch will be willing to take part in the evaluation when we ask for volunteers early in the New Year.

Philip Whitley

Convenor, Membership Services Committee

Further information from the RSCDS website:

Book 47

Following the third round of evaluation held on Saturday 5th January, the final 12 dances have been decided upon: 3 jigs, 4 reels and 5 strathspeys. Congratulations to the successful dance devisors, who include 4 from Scotland, 2 from England, 4 from North America, 1 from Australia and 1 from New Zealand. The process now begins of converting the dance descriptions into RSCDS standard terminology, and finding suitable music for those dances that were not submitted with music. Our commiserations to all those who were not successful this time - but there will be another call for dances soon. All successful and unsuccessful devisers will be notified in person in the coming weeks.

Thank you to everyone for your help with the dances that we had to evaluate.   We await to see if any of ours made it to the final choice.

Helen Brown (York)


As you will see on the application form on the back, the Annual Branch Subscription for single members has increased from £18 to £20. The current £18 consists of £15 which is forwarded to RSCDS Headquarters (to pay for the twice yearly Magazine, production of CDs and Books, and all the other administrative activity), and £3 which is retained by the branch. At the Society AGM in November it was agreed that the annual subscription would increase by £1, and the committee has decided that we would take this opportunity to increase the branch element by a similar amount. The joint subscription has also been adjusted to take account of this increase, from £30 to £34, which we hope you will agree is still good value for money.

Malcolm Brown - Secretary


You may have signed a Gift Aid form allowing the Branch to reclaim tax from HMRC, currently worth 25p of every pound you have paid to us in the form of your annual subscription or donation. At the moment this signed declaration allows us to reclaim tax until you notify us otherwise, i.e. you no longer wish to do this or you no longer qualify because you do not pay tax.

Thanks to those of you who have already let me know that they no longer qualify.

On your annual Membership Application form there is a box to tick if you think you have completed a Gift Aid form. It appears that some people are ticking the box because they wish to donate, but in some cases they have not completed the actual form. This is absolutely necessary, as HMRC could choose to investigate any claim made and we have to have the evidence that you wish us to reclaim the tax. We do not have this unless a form has been completed and returned to the treasurer. If you are unsure please ask for another form.

If our current records show that we do not have a signed form we will be contacting you.

If you know you have not signed a form previously, but would like us to start claiming, we can claim for previous years of subscriptions paid back to 2008.

Rita Eastwood, Treasurer


An early notice – this is still to be confirmed, but Jean McInnes and Joyce Cochrane have volunteered to lead the Annual Walk again.  It is likely that the walk will take place on Tuesday 11th June (thus avoiding half-term for those on grandparenting duties), with a walk in the Goodmanham – Londesborough area and a pub lunch afterwards in Goodmanham. This is still in the planning stages so any comments or suggestions to Jean or Joyce, please.  Watch this space!


Many thanks to Helen Brown and Chris Hare, who did the cooking for the Burns Supper, and to all who helped in the kitchen in the afternoon. Thanks also to George for playing the pipes, and to Ken for addressing the Haggis.  It was a great afternoon – let’s hope it will be repeated!

Make Merry in Kerry

Come and join The International Branch for a




Weekend: 17-20th May 2013  Holiday: 20-25th May 2013

Gleneagle Hotel – Killarney

Teachers: Malcolm Brown – Tim Wilson – Raphaelle Orgeret

Band: Nicol McLaren

This weekend will be dedicated to the memory of Susi Mayr,

founder member and chairman.

For further information: and follow link to Ireland Weekend 2013.


Our A.G.M. will take place, as usual, during the interval of the April Branch Dance, which will be held in the Community Centre in Driffield on Saturday 13th April.  The dance will begin at 7.30; entrance is £4 for members and £5 for non-members. You are asked to bring contributions to a faith supper.  The programme has been devised by Malcolm Brown and will be danced to recorded music:


You will have read earlier Malcolm’s announcement that he is retiring from the Committee. Two members of the Branch Committee will finish their three year term at the A.G.M. – please do consider volunteering!

This is also the point at which anyone wishing to put any motions etc. forward to the committee should do so.


As in the last couple of years, our May dance will be held in the memorial Hall in Pickering, and has the added draw of live music, provided this time by Chris and Julie Dewhurst.  The dance, on Saturday 11th May, will cost £8 for RSCDS members and non-members alike, and will begin at 7.30.  You are asked to bring contributions to a Faith Supper; as usual, disposable plates are preferred.  The programme has been chosen by members of the Pickering group.