May 2018         A NEWSLETTER           No. 153


In which the editor writes further on strathspeys, and why they are not boring; some possibly unconnected thoughts, on strathspeys, medleys, etc.

It was exactly a year ago that I last wrote about strathspeys, with my ideas on how they should be danced and played, and above all, why strathspeys are not boring. To reprise what I said then, although the odd dance and the occasional tune may be boring, that is also true of jigs and reels, and strathspeys of themselves are NOT BORING!

At a recent dance, someone was rather shocked to discover that there were FIVE strathspeys on the programme: the unspoken words were “Isn’t that too many?” Helen Brown and I both admitted to thinking “ONLY five strathspeys?” Just one was an 8x32 strathspey – the rest were ‘once through only’ in three or four couples sets. As I said last May, I have nothing against 3x32 or 4x32 strathspeys at all, and some of them are particular favourites; however, I do not want them to dominate programmes, on the grounds that you miss so much!

A major reason for including strathspeys at all in programmes is because they form such a major and distinctive part of our tradition. Jigs (according to Wikipedia) developed first in England, recorded since the 16th century; reels were originally Scottish but are now common in Northern English, Irish and Cape Breton Folk Dance; strathspeys though are originated in Scotland and are unique to the Scottish tradition. Sometimes we forget that we are dancing in a tradition and it is important to maintain it. The strathspey is important and too good an element of Scottish Country Dancing to be left to one side.

Strathspeys are not just “slow” dances, giving time to recover the breath. Early archive recordings often have strathspeys danced at what now feels quite a fast pace, while competition Highland strathspeys seem to have slowed right down A fiddler who specialized in strathspeys told me that traditionally, strathspeys were played at different speeds on the west coast and in the north-east. Nor does slow mean boring. No one ever faulted Eric Clapton for playing “slow”! Strathspeys played quite slowly can require a lot of stamina and muscle control. Listening to strathspeys as you dance helps you put expression into your dancing. The music always matters. Some bands will even play seven different tunes in an 8x32 strathspey – a luxury you don’t often get with jigs and reels!

Other speeds and styles in the SCD tradition seem to have disappeared in the last twenty years or so, like dances with a running step (Haymakers or Strip the Willow) or the Slow 6/8, like the Gentle Shepherd. Some of them now seem to be rejected as “ceilidh” dances (and therefore not good enough) or as mistakes or anomalies (and also therefore not good enough!) Medleys are not quite so contentious; the inclusion of MacDonald of Keppoch in Book 49 has raised the profile somewhat!  However, the old 16S+16R type of medley is disappearing fast – and I like Glasgow Country Dance and Cauld Kail. The next one-woman campaign coming up…

It is usually only in difficult dem dances that we get a Strathspey, Reel and Jig appearing together as a medley, when they usually appear as three distinct elements rather than a single dance. Maybe it would be possible to do all three as variations on each other – I’ve been listening to the Battlefield Band’s Lady Madelina Sinclair/The Spey in Spate/The Duke of Perth medley and getting excited about the possibility of writing a dance to go with it – but my dance-writing skills are not good enough!

The last thing I want to quote from last May is my plea to programme devisers to include more strathspeys, and particularly 8x32s. After all, if you encore a 4x32 or a 3x32 strathspey, you might as well go the whole hog!

And the subheading for the editorial? Blame it on studying the classic English novels at university – or more likely on Terry Pratchett…

Joyce Cochrane


I told Joyce that henceforth I was only going to contribute occasionally; this must be an occasion. David and I recently agreed we hadn’t danced a tournée for a long time and we hoped we never would again. But, of course, on the following Friday evening it cropped up. I have to admit that it’s a very lovely formation when everyone dances it correctly. On this occasion, after getting it wrong almost every time, I learnt a valuable lesson: turn with both hands and don’t let go with one of them until the end of the fourth bar, then you absolutely have to do the whooshy turns the correct way. Fingers crossed – no, perhaps not!

A tournée’s not a tourbillon, sometimes I wish it could be

Or a bourrel or an espagnole, danced just as it should be.

Rondels should be abolished, la baratte is not much better,

Crown and double triangles are not good for the setter

And the spoke is also taxing, goes round in a spirella

No, their concern was corsets, but I don’t mean petronella.

Schiehallion is great fun and will really make you think,

So will a good poussette and then a set and link.

Teapots are not allowed and a spurtle sounds quite rude

As for snowball/chain* progressions, don’t let them intrude.

A promenade is boring, allemande is better at a ball –  

Unless you dance the old sort, which no-one can recall.

If you want to make a Celtic cross or a little weasel reel

All this stuff is quite enough – let’s do a right-hand wheel!

*(Can you knot a targe or targe a knot?

It all depends which chain you’ve got.)


Veronica Wallace, York


Malcolm Brown has agreed to hold a series of three classes for advanced dancers. It is assumed participants will have a sound knowledge of basic formations and a commitment to all three sessions.

The sessions to take place on the third Wednesday of the month:-

September 19th  

October 17th

November 21st.

The venue is to be Wetwang Village Hall from 10 a.m. – 12 noon. There will be a charge as yet not fully determined but should be no more than £5

Anyone interested should contact either:

Jennifer Robinson        Mobile  07886869281  e-mail

or Nigel Bell                01482 862352       e-mail:


Our dance in September is slightly later in the month, as last year, to give people time to get back into dancing after the summer break.   Also as last year, it is being held in Elloughton Village Hall (HU15 1AJ), again to live music from Robert Whitehead. You are asked to bring contributions to a Faith Supper, preferably on a disposable plate. The price is £8 for RSCDS members, £10 for non-members.

The dance will begin at 7.30 pm. and the programme has been chosen by George Edwards.

Copy date for next issue:     2nd September 2018