May 2011 A NEWSLETTER No. 125
Some time back in the 1980s Radio 4 broadcast a series of radio programmes rather
in the style of a radio column called “More Wrestling than Dancing”, memoirs of life
on one of the Scottish islands. The quotation is originally from Marcus Aurelius:
“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing”. During my recent extended
Helen Russell has a system of classifying dances all of her own which includes the
“mother in law” dance (where a man asks a lady to dance, but never dances with her
Scottish Country Dancing is not a non-
Certain types of physical contact can be resented, however. I’m thinking of the
kind of situation where someone, maybe a beginner or less confident dancer, is “helped”
into place by someone “guiding” them. Fair enough if it’s the teacher, perhaps, and
the dancer knows they are there, but even then there are usually other methods. But
it is not very far from “helping” to giving a little shove or push, and even if this
is not the intention, it may feel that way to a dancer unaware of the “guider’s”
(or “shover’s”) presence. This is not accidental -
Even worse are the occasions when one dancer is in the way of another -
So how can you help someone find their way without touching them? Shouting instructions
at them is one solution I’ve seen, but it’s far from foolproof. However, many instructions
can be given without words at all. A nod of the head towards the correct place, small
indications with hand or body, either from the partner or others in the set, is often
I suppose that really I’m pleading for dancers to be aware that while they themselves may not mind physical guidance from other dancers, there are other people who are less comfortable with this. By participating in country dancing we have given our consent to touch, but have not given our consent to be shoved around! The intention and the effect may well be miles apart. Sensitivity together with good spatial awareness can solve the problem.
COUNTRY DANCING AND THE NEXT GENERATION
Your editorial in the current issue raises a very important issue and it prompts
me to write with some of my experiences as a dancer over the last 35 or more years.
For 25 of those years I was very active in the English country dance scene, dancing
various styles of Morris and travelling all over the UK to country dances ( more
often known as Ceilidhs on the English scene ) with the best of bands. These dances
were lively events, and often attracted a younger age group. The important difference
between that scene and the current Scottish Country Dance scene was that the amount
of knowledge required to participate was minimal, just a sense of rhythm and some
basic steps, as all the dances except the very best known ones were walked through
and then called the first couple of times through until the caller deemed it time
to shout 'you're on your own now'. The other attraction to the younger age group
was the bands which were for the most part very influenced by the folk rock scene,
bands such as Gas Mark V, The Electropathics, All Blacked Up, The John Kirkpatrick
band, and Laycock's Overdrive, bands which comprised a variety of instruments often
with Sax and keyboards nearly always with electric Bass & Drums.
There is another more serious side to the English dancing scene: the Playford dance groups. Over the years, out of curiosity, I was tempted on a number of occasions to go to Playford events but even when I went with an experienced Playford dancer as a partner I always felt out of my depth and somewhat intimidated. When I was in my early 30s the Playford dancers all seemed ancient and staid (some of them were probably as old as 50! ) the music they danced to was often recorded or if there was a live musician the music was played straight from the score without any of the 'lift' that an experienced dance musician can inject into the tune. In short it was boring compared to the country dancing I was used to, but the biggest problem was that an encyclopaedic knowledge of the dances was required as quite complex dances were merely announced, or at best talked through once briefly! I see strong parallels here with the dances run by the Society.
The experiences I had at these Playford events gives me something of an insight into
what it must be like for a new young dancer entering the Scottish Dance scene today.
Even for myself, with primary school Scottish Dancing as a foundation and decades
of English Country dancing and playing for dancing to draw from I must say I found
my first few weeks at Harrogate and York quite daunting. I am sure it is quite terrifying
for a complete beginner, especially if they are from a younger less confident age
I am afraid I do not have the solution to the problem, but there certainly is a problem.
If we are to attract the next generation into our tradition something has to be done
to make it more accessible, and attractive to the younger dancers. Where are the
young lively dance bands? The Scottish traditional music scene is lively, with musicians
such as Battlefield Band, Capercaillie, Natalie McMaster, Old Blind Dogs, Peatbog
Faeries etc, but these are all 'Concert Bands'. I do not know personally of any Scottish
dance bands with a similar approach to the music. Having played for dancing for many
years, I know that there is a need for accuracy in the timing of the music if it
is to work for dancing, but that does not preclude experimentation in the use of
key changes, countermelodies and inter-
My impression of the Scottish Country dance scene after 18 months is one of a tradition doing very little to attract the next generation, and a tradition whose natural development and evolution is being constrained by a desire to fossilise the tradition as it stands today. Maybe we need the Scottish equivalent of Riverdance to update the tradition and awaken the interest of younger participants.
Ian Hazell, York
Come to the AGM – next year!
‘Pole dancing tonight, then?’ said Patrick, reading the entry ‘Branch dance’ on the
calendar. On Fridays it just says ‘dancing’, which to P means wild tribal frenzy.
Mondays I suppose are the same, with a religious flavour. And he always reads the
monthly ‘HO [Hartrigg Oaks] dancing’ as NO Dancing so I don’t know what he thinks
we get up to there. At the occasional ‘Dunnington dancing pm’ we doubtless discuss
our shortcomings, or perhaps -
This dancing business certainly seems to have got into my blood since I started it
about eight years ago, after a gap since schooldays. A year’s intensive study at
school (i.e. half an hour a week at the age of eleven) left me with merely the knowledge
of how to set -
Mrs F’s rival was a Miss Ailsa Craig, who, in spite of her name and ?Edinburgh speech,
was blatantly scornful of perfection in dancing, and for a term or so allowed us
to stumble through the English country variety. My main memory of her is the vision
of her peering angrily over a large pink petticoat, hastily snatched up one morning
when I was ‘dared’ to enter her changing room without knocking. Oh the shame, hers
and mine! -
How did I get back to school when I started writing about -
dancing “mairi’s wedding”
The October “Broun’s Reel” included a very full and interesting article by Malcolm Brown on “Mairi’s Wedding” and the discussions that surround it. You may be interested in my personal recollection of meeting this dance.
I was first taught this in 1959 (or possibly 1960), complete with first couple passing right shoulder in the “Mari’s Wedding Reels”, so this “variation” had already arrived by this time. Furthermore, we were told by the class teacher that these big, flowing loops represented the bows on the bride’s bouquet and that, whilst the written instructions showed left shoulder reels, this was a misprint! It was a dance that rarely appeared on RSCDS programmes until about 1990 but was danced with the right shoulder version wherever I encountered it (but I have danced on only three continents).
It was only when the RSCDS suddenly appeared to recognise it that I encountered “the
discussion”. As a teacher, I have certainly found that (especially inexperienced)
dancers are very liable to go to the wrong corner if passing left shoulder but far
less likely to do so when passing right, as it naturally directs you towards the
right corner (no pun intended)
One other curiosity is the habit of some dancers to “whirl like dervishes” in the half reels. I don’t know when it appeared (I guess sometime in the ’70’s) – I certainly never encountered it in the dance’s early days) but I wish the RSCDS had put some effort into eradicating it. I suggest it is downright dangerous, especially when there are inexperienced dancers in the set; moreover, such dancers try to emulate “the experts” increasing the danger and losing the timing of the dance. It becomes even more dangerous if first couple is trying to pass left shoulders in the middle.
Malcolm Frost, Harrogate
CHARITY DANCE, NORTH FERRIBY, 11th JUNE
The charity dance this year will be held at All Saints’ Church Hall in North Ferriby
on Saturday 11th June, beginning at 7.30 pm. Admission costs £5 for all comers; there
will be a faith supper as usual, and a raffle. All moneys raised will go to our
chosen charity, which this year is The Mission to Deep-
As always, the crib and a link to a map of the venue will be available on the website. It would be great to see more of you from the York area!
The programme has been drawn up by Philip.
BRANCH COMMITTEE 2011-
The new Branch Committee consists of the following members:
Secretary Helen Brown
Treasurer Rita Eastwood
Chairman Malcolm Brown
Other members: Joyce Cochrane
Welcome to Norma as a first time member of the committee!
In the last edition, did you notice the picture of Malcolm being presented with his scroll at the beginning, and Allan dancing at the end? Good photos!
OBITUARY: GEORGE MAIN.
George was born on December 5th 1921 at Alford in Aberdeenshire. He was one of a family of six children born to Robert and Mary, four boys and two girls.
He left school and became an apprentice plasterer at the age of fourteen. By the time that the Second World War started he was a member of the Territorial Army, but at the age of seventeen was considered to be too young to be sent to France. He was sent off to the Orkney Isles for further training. Somehow he was transferred to the Northamptonshire regiment, although early photographs suggested that he was initially in the Gordon Highlanders.
The initial posting was to East Yorkshire to man searchlights near Malton and Fimber covering local airfields and Hull docks. It was at this time that he met a young lady from Wetwang, Millie Leppington, who would ultimately become his wife.
In 1941 he was posted overseas, initially to North Africa. While overseas he and Millie corresponded frequently. At one port he wrote of receiving a collection of 41 of her letters waiting for him. Millie had a collection of over thee hundred letters sent by him during the war. During a six day period of leave at Christmas time in 1942 George and Millie were married.
After North Africa it was into Italy where he lost one of his best friends in house to house fighting. At one point he got separated from the regiment and had to live off the land for a period. On another occasion he was involved with “Popski’s private army” an organisation with similar aims as the Long Range Desert Group and a forerunner to the present day S.A.S. In October 1944 he was wounded by mortar fire, transported to hospital by air in very cramped conditions with his nose almost touching the stretcher above him. After recovering he was transferred to driving duties. He described driving the supply lorries over the desert in Iraq and sleeping on the sand under the lorry at night. In January 1946 George was demobilised at the age of 24.
George and Millie decided to remain in East Yorkshire. He returned to his original trade as a plasterer initially with Walt Burgess of Sledmere but later he started his own business. Some of his work can still be seen at Sledmere Hall where he covered his ornamental plasterwork with gold leaf.
As a young man his recreational interest was football .A very talented player, playing for a good amateur side Bridlington Trinity and representing the East Riding. When he retired from football he devoted his energies to Scottish Country dancing. He ran classes in the East Riding before the York and North Humberside branch of the RSCDS was formed. A member of the RSCDS since 1975 and holder of a teachers certificate from 1979 he organised large dances and got well known bands from north of the border, including Jimmy Shand to play for them. The George Main dance team danced in many charity events, and at Beckett Park festival the forerunner of the White Rose Festival, and on at least one occasion in France. He served on the branch committee and as chairman of the Branch. It was fitting that he should be the first local recipient of the RSCDS branch award in 2005.
As an exile he joined the Scots Society and served a period as chairman. His numerous contacts were frequently very useful. The City of Hull pipe band was persuaded by him to come and play in Queens Square on the occasion that the Branch put on an out door display. Numerous venues were found by him for dances and practice, the most quaint being an old chapel at the village of Lund. It was only just large enough to accommodate one set.
George was deeply involved in local council work, serving as chairman of the Wetwang Parish Council for many years. In recognition of the services that he had given for the local community George and Millie received an invitation to one of the Queen’s garden parties in 1978. This he attended proudly wearing his kilt. In 1992 George and Millie celebrated their golden wedding. Unfortunately Millie became terminally ill shortly after this.
The Beverley class had to close down when the venue was taken over by the local authority, but he continued with his class in Willerby at the Dodsworth Hall and later at St.Luke’s Church Hall. By this time he was well into his eighties. Many of his group were very anxious about his safety as he drove the twenty or so miles from Wetwang to Willerby during the winter months and in all weathers.
At the end of 2010 he was persuaded to leave Wetwang to live nearer his son Ian and daughter in law Christine. Sadly his health was very poor with multiple problems which led to him falling and breaking his leg, an injury which ultimately proved fatal.
George was one of a generation now rapidly diminishing who were uprooted by a world war, lived through many unpleasant and life threatening experiences. He returned to civilian life far from his original roots to make a great contribution both to his local community and to the recreational activities that he took part in. Those who remember him will be grateful for his endeavours while those who did not know him can only hope that there will be others of a similar nature coming forward to continue to serve their communities as he did.
George Edwards, Willerby
OBITUARY: MOLLY WILLIAMS
Molly Williams danced in the York area and was a well-
Molly was born in Hampshire and met Albert -
Molly had suffered from osteoporosis for quite some time, and was an active member of the Osteoporosis Society. In recent years she had had a lot of falls, and was going downhill although she was still managing to live at home. Her last fall occurred at Christmas; fortunately her son Ian had come down from the north of Scotland and was there with his wife. Molly sustained a broken arm and severe bruising, and went into St. Helen’s in York, where unfortunately she suffered a relapse.
Molly died on January 22nd 2011, aged 87. At her funeral, someone said: “Well, there’s enough of York Club up there now to make up a full set!” Our condolences go to Ian and his wife Pam, and other family and friends.
Many thanks to Kate Kerman for her help.
OBITUARY: NORMAN GILL.
Norman Gill was known for many years principally in the East Riding: he was a long-
Norman originally came to Hull to work on the docks, and took lodgings with Nancy’s
Norman died aged 89 on March 12th 2011, and his funeral was held at Willerby Crematorium on 22nd March. We would like to express our deep sympathy to Nancy and to their two daughters.
It was with sadness that we learnt of the death of JOHN MASON M.B.E. on January 22nd 2011, the day after his 71st birthday.
John Mason was the founder of THE SCOTTISH FIDDLE ORCHESTRA in 1980. They were regular
visitors to York at the Barbican, and later at the University. Many of us enjoyed
John’s vigorous conducting of the toe-
John Mason was born in Kirkwall, Orkney, into a musical family, and learnt to play
the piano and the fiddle. The family moved to Wigton in Galloway where he went to
school and continued with his music. Later he went to Edinburgh Universityto study
Law, and practised in Newton Stewart, and then Troon. During this time he continued
his musical interest, especially his passion for traditional Scottish music, and
this inspired him to gather together like-
As well as their conductor and musical director, he was a talented composer, and
wrote the tune for father connelly’s jig -
John Mason will be missed, but his orchestra lives on.
Elizabeth MacDonald & Margaret Savage, York