Sunday, October 25, 2015

19 October 2015 – Scotia

The thrust of the last few weeks has been to prepare the class for the upcoming Jeannie Carmichael Ball (NY Branch), which irks me a bit because the NY Branch has a dance list, instituted for the express purpose of freeing the teachers from the tyranny of ball prep by ensuring that all the dances on the programs are familiar since they will repeat often. 

Sigh. We're still doing ball prep. Everywhere. Branch, Scotia, NJ, Westchester and all the teachers identify the same dances so we all teach the same dances over and over and over…   SIGH.

This week the prep dances are The Lady Wynd, The Captain's House, Cadgers in the Canongate, and The Belle of Bon Accord.

First hour:- 

The Lady Wynd  -  (32 J 3) - Goldring
The Captain's House  - (32 R 3)  - H. Boyd

Second hour:-

Mrs Stewart's Jig  - (32 J 3)  - Ligtmans
Cadgers in the Canongate  - (48 R 3)  - Bk 9
The Belle of Bon Accord  - (32 S 4)  - Drewry
Sleepy Maggie  - (32 R 3) -  Bk 11


The Lady Wynd :- It is on the program. It is a Goldring. Simple, social and getting tedious. Just too many times.

The Captain's House :- A nice find, nothing exotic but just enough different to keep the tedium away.
Thank you Holly.

Mrs Stewart's Jig :- Another recent addition to the good jig repertoire. Thank you. It keeps coming round because it works!

Cadgers in the Canongate :- I like this dance! I like the reels. I like that the first one puts you in partner's place and that 1C change roles and experience the other aspect of the reels. I do not want this dance fixed in any way. It isn't broken. I like that the directions I have (1953 edition) leave it all unsaid so that both the teachers and the dancers have the freedom to interpret it as they wish.

What I do not want is the reel to become rule bound and 'fixed' to match those in Tulloch Gorm.
Different interpretations of very similar figures leads to diversity and that keeps the dancing fun!
And isn't that why we do this - for fun?

Sleepy Maggie :- Hot! Hot! Hot! especially when danced to the music recorded (still the name tune) for The Black Leather Jig. 

12 October 2015 – Scotia

There isn't much to say about this evening's dances. Only that a golden oldie is coming back into fashion. Overdone to the point of burnout 15 years ago the old guard often forget the newer guard has never seen it. The dance -  Red House.

First hour :-

British Grenadiers  - (32 R 3) - Miscellany
Birks of Invermay  - (32 S 3) - Bk 16

Second hour:-

Welcome to Ayr  - (32 J 3) - Bk 47
Red House  - (40 R 2) - Bk 7
A Summer Meeting  - (32 S 3set) - Bk 48


British Grenadiers :- not a scintillating dance but the new music by Jim Lindsay (CD for Bk 49) is fun! It may not be your standard Scottish music but it is fun! A thumbs up.

Welcome to Ayr :- Just enough different to take some careful teaching. I was in a class where it was taught not so carefully and a number of minor points got missed. IMHO a most welcome addition to the RSCDS jig repertoire which, on the whole, is seriously lacking in good, fun, engaging jigs.

Red House :- Because the reels make the dance I taught this one. The reel first, walked for every couple several times so everyone got the reels from each and every position more than once - the rest of the dance is quite simple, almost simplistic. Unless you play.

We teach reels reels carefully - 6 bars, 8 bars, 4 bars half way etc, etc. This one's different. The phrasing can not be strict. It is a 10 bar movement danced in 8 bars so the phrasing must be fuzzy.  For 1st lady: About 2 bars to enter the reel, about 2 bars to dance home, leaving 4 or so bars to dance more than half a reel. Dancers just have to make it work. Theirs is the burden to make it flow.

Note- I love the dance, both for the music (I especially love the Berkeley Players recording) and for the reels which are unique. 

A Summer Meeting :- Yay! Finally, we have good old fashioned half reels of four with Left shoulder passes in the middle between reels. But…"Edinburgh, we have a problem here".

Right shoulder passes are all the modern rage, stemming from Mairi's Wedding, where dancers like to  pass right shoulders between the half diagonal reels of four. James Cosh objected, so I hear - I wasn't there so this is second hand - to this ornament and insisted that the passes ought to be by left shoulder.
So dancers play, pass by the right, and newer dancers see it, copy cat that and don't know any better, and slowly but surely the right shoulder pass becomes standard - especially since so many new dances have the right shoulder pass between the reels written in.

The result - even when the left shoulder pass IS specifically stated and emphatically so instructed, many dancers were passing right shoulders in these reels - they just couldn't help themselves. A case of muscle memory overriding the brain. 

Oh, the dance? I like it and I'm willing to dance it anytime it comes around. A Thumbs Up.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

5 October 2015 - Scotia

This week was especially fun.

Deborah taught the first half and she does a darn good basics class. Last week she stressed handing. This week she stressed Pas de Basque and Poussette. There was mild skip change step practice followed by moderate Pas de Basque step practice leading into Poussette practice. And the improvement was noticeable!

 I taught the second half - one dance for everyone, and then just two others, but what others!

Back story on the one dance for everyone:
Once upon a time, back in the stone age, I used home made 3x5 cards with my own version of Pilling's diagrams. I would prepare a whole series: my want-to-do dances; the need-to-do dances; the go-to beginner dances; dances from up-coming programs; a group of surprise, extraordinary dances; etc. etc. 2 - 3 hundred cards/dances, all in a single file box. I would walk in, open the box, choose the evening's dances, spread them out on the table and, depending on who walked in door, pick out the dances I would teach. If I got surprises all I had to do was pull out the appropriate back up group, and go on from there. The system worked.

I can't do that now. Too many classes going at once, too many programs coming up, and the system that worked well for me for all these years has proven inadequate for the task. I needed a better way.

Hooray for Strathspey and the SCDDB! Those lists, those wonderful, printable, lists! In my computer bag I now have printed lists for the NY Dance List, the JC Ball, The Nutmeg Workshop, Drewry Night, and the Kilts and Ghillies Ball, as well as the list for tonight's class. And that list can be far larger than I could possibly teach in the evening. And the list is public so the dancer's can prep for the class. Many find the videos, when the dance has them, to be invaluable.

Mind you, I still bring my old card file. I still find it easier to teach off a 3x5 card with Pilling style diagrams than off the written word. What is in the file box now? A card for each of the dances on the NY Branch dance list,  both past and present; a group of beginner dances; a group of dances for small numbers (2somes, 3somes, 4omes and 5somes); and a group of maybe someday, current interest dances. The Old Way is still a good fall back position and I had a dance to hand when I decided to pull a switcheroo - drop Mole's Frolic for It's Nae Bother.

                           *                  *                *

The dances we taught this week:

The Ferryboat - (32 J n Circle) - C. Hunt
Blue Bonnets  - (32 J 2) -  Bk 3/5
Rakes of Glasgow  - (32 S 3) -  Bl 11/11
It's Nae Bother  - (32 J 2) -  Haynes
The Hamilton Rant  - (48 R 3) - Bk 22/2
Richard the Third  - (32 S 3) -  Glasspool

The dances were picked from this list : Scotia 5 October.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Ferryboat :- A  basic introductory circle dance that makes for a decent "lets walk it to get ourselves somewhat warmed up " dance. Good for newbies or audience participation

Blue Bonnets :- What does this dance have? A poussette… and the music.

Rakes of Glasgow :- When the dance is a strathspey and all you have is Rights&Lefts | down the middle and up | Allemande | and a circle, you better have really good music. I have three recordings for this dance and the two RSCDS tracks are… tedious. Luckily there is the old Berkeley Scottish Players' LP Heather and Yon. Really nice secondary tunes, all of them beautiful.

What Deborah stressed, as she did last week, was the handing aspects of the dance, especially the handing in the Rights & Lefts and the "assist" in the polite turn and the other ways to "help" other dancers. The NY Branch has been concerned about inappropriate assistance and has written a 'minute' which has been published on their web site. NY Branch Guidelines  More about this later in the post.

It's Nae Bother :- Switch dance - Deb worked on handing last week. I wasn't there for it as I was teaching a class in New Haven. So a dance that gives the dancers handing practice was a better choice than what I had originally planned. And a surprise for me - This time round I am finding the chase figures in this dance pleasing. Thumbs up.

The Hamilton Rant :- Twenty years ago we so over did this favourite we burned out on it. There are now many dancers who have never seen the dance. And most of the teachers, who burned out on the dance, look surprised when they hear that.

It has been chosen for the NY Branch's dance list. It is on the JC Ball program therefore it is on the prep list, and watching the joy of the dancers who are learning it brings me joy. Don't forget this one guys. The short form - *Thumbs Up*.

And now my rant:

Many dancers play. They like twirling out of Set To and Turn Corners. There are also some dancers who believe that they should be pro-active and assist dancers into polite turns and birls. I would go a little further and say some dancers like to be really helpful and actively assist dancers into polite turns and birls.

Doing that is neither helpful nor polite and can cause injury.

Case in point - I almost had my shoulder dislocated one evening when a teacher shoved me, make that SHOVED me, into a polite turn. I didn't need the hint, I knew the polite turn was coming and I wasn't expecting that degree of "assistance". I had to walk off the floor my shoulder hurt so, and I am no longer able to sleep on my side with that shoulder under me.

Truth in Scottish Country Dancing:

We are aging. We are getting fragile and we don't heal as quickly as we used to. Also, I have some  dancers who are in their nineties and getting hard of hearing, mildly forgetful, and unsteady on their feet. For them, what? A helpful Shove?  Seriously?  And if it is your habit to be proactive will you always remember to go gently? Yes some of us do need a reminder or an assist on occasion. But it needs to be gently done and that is what we need to be teaching but haven't been - gentle dancing even when in overdrive. And we should be teaching this to our beginners and reteaching to our experienced dancers!

The gentlest way to "assist" someone in a polite turn, or into a birl out of a turn, is to provide a firm and steady support. A passive support that is there IF NEEDED. It is the choice of the 'active' dancer to use or not use that hand. It is not for the supporting dancer to force a birl or a polite turn. Their job is to have their hand where it should be, firm and steady, and nothing more. A newer dancer may not have "gotten" the polite turn thing and not know how, or when, to do it. A hard shove does not a polite turn make, but a gentle coaching after the fact is more in keeping with that intent.

Enough. I am off my soap box now.

Richard the Third :- ** Two thumbs up.**  In my humble opinion this is one of the top strathspeys of all time. A fabulous dance!  First, Terry Glasspool messes with your mind by messing with the standard timing of the first figure. Then there is an unusual RHA for three into a circle back (to the right) into lines on the sides. The third figure develops a pulse and rhythm that I find deeply satisfying. I know I have taught this dance before and have raved about it. Go take a look in the archives.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

28 September 2015 - Dancing on the Heights (NHFM)

My monthly class at New Haven Friends Meeting in Fair Haven, on the heights, resumed after summer dancing.

Young Emma has returned and I am in conversation with her mother about a children's class. Talk about WAY outside my box!!

This class has always been advanced. I have pulled just about anything out of my back pocket and they have handled it. Emma, has danced a bit of Irish, walked right into the set and handled everything I have tossed at the class. I am not dumbing anything down. She doesn't [yet] have the style but she is a steel trap for the figures. I can only pray that the youngsters who will come to this young person's class will be half as good.

This night's dances were:-

Gloria's Wee Jig  - (32 J 2) - Devil's Quandary (McMurtry)
Capelthwaite  - (32 R 2) -  San Francisco 2 (Sigg)
MacDonald of Keppoch  -  (128 M 4 square) - Book 49 (Ronald)
The Gates of India  - (32 J 4 ) -  Jean Attwood
Richard the Third  - (32 S 3) - Terry Glasspool
Outward Bound  - (32 J 3 set ) - Price


Gloria's Wee Jig :-  A nice wee jig. Now on the Kilts and Ghillies Tea Dance program as the second half opener. Like Dancing in the Streets it has a nice but different entry into Ladies Chain and the closing chase is sweet and tart at the same time. Deborah says I came up with it - I don't remember.
She then taught it and I fell for it. Note - I put it on a major program.  Can you say Thumbs up?

Capelthwaite :- This one is different and messed with my mind. Everything is twisted and not just a little bit. Only the Poussette was normal. This one is a yes, low key yes, but still a yes. Worth doing again simply to see if the dance holds up, gains ground or falls down.

MacDonald of Keppoch :- I like it. A lot. The parallel reels of 4 into singular Left shoulder reel of 4 is brilliant. That you dance with the same corners throughout isn't a problem here. In Bobby Brown's Canadian Breakdown it is a true problem. I don't think there is a more tedious dance ever devised. (Please don't try!)  IMHO MacDonald of Keppoch is one of the few medleys worth doing. 1314  and Schiehallion are the two others that come to mind. Oh right, and there is also Sage and Salsa (Jane Lataille) which is the only 32 bar medley I enjoy dancing. All the others have been thumbs downer.

So a challenge for you all - Change my mind! Write contrary comments (which I will publish) and give us some medleys that you think are worth doing. I will try them.

The Gates of India :- This one is interesting. It reads like it should be fabulous. It reads like it should be on a par with Falls of Rogie, one of the best dances I have ever come across. But, it hasn't danced that way. This was my second attempt at it.  It, well, it has underwhelmed me.
It could be the music I have picked. I will try again with different music and hope for better.

The only other Jean Attwood dance that is occasionally danced around here is Butterscotch and Honey, a 32 S 4. Nice but not great. So I have a question. Is Jean Attwood a one shot wonder? She has written over 100 dances. Surely there are other dances of hers that are fun, exciting, lovely, "fall in love with" great dances? Who has one of those?
Will you share? Please?

Richard the Third :- Another great (IMO) dance. To my mind the heart and soul of Terry's dance is the R&L figure that, with his choice of music, takes on a pulse of its own. The rest of the dance isn't bad either and I love dancing this one. It is back on the Kilts and Ghillies program by my personal popular request.

I haven't met a Terry Glasspool dance that I haven't liked. I love some! I hate none.
He is at least as good as John Drewry - certainly more daring and willing to take thing outside the box. He just doesn't have the 'weight' that John had in the SCD community. John wrote a lot of dances, Terry only a few. You have to really sift John's work to find the really good ones. Most of Terry's are that good, but not necessarily to every one's taste or ability.

Ball, workshop, evening dance - if it any of Terry Glasspool's dances are on the program I am interested in going.

Outward Bound :- One of mine. I seriously considered the other version (Eggemoggin Reach - 32 J 3 in a 4C set) for the opener of  the Kilts and Ghillies. Vetoed by Sandra my co-programmer. It took a while to find out why - the program was already reel heavy and her class, which has children, don't handle reels all that well. This dance has reels. Mirror reels - with the one's crossing to own sides after 4 bars, and then two sets of half reels of three across, the half reels followed by 4 bar turns.

I t was late, it was a newish dance for them, I thought. I was wrong. It was completely new to them because I don't see it listed in my notebook. They had some trouble with it. I was ready to drop it but they wanted to keep at it until they got. They did, they applauded. They actually liked it even after all they work they put in.

I did several other dances of mine over the summer with the New Haven class but I did not do this one with them. So they did better than I thought. Upgrade from a 72 to a gold star.

Note: Outward Bound is Eggemoggin Reach which has been slightly revised to make it danceable in a 3C set. The only difference- bars 3-4.

23 September 2015 – Westchester

Deborah and Charlotte 's  series.

Wacky Reels Night -

Walk around warm up to "Sleepwalking" by Mara Shea and Dave Wiesler.

Dances taught:-

The Fairy Ring - (32 J n Circle) - Ian Boyd
Cadgers in the Canongate - (48 R 3) - Bk 9/10
A Summer Meeting - (32 S 3 set) - Irene Townsend

Berwick Johnny - (32 J 3) - Graded
Strathglass House - (32 S 3) - Bk 13
The Royal Deeside Railway - (32 R 3) - Bk 40/9
Red House - (40 R 2) - Bk 7/2


The Fairy Ring :- See previous post.

Cadgers in the Canongate :- Good Music. Often great music. I love the reels. I like that they are serious misinterpretations (IMHO) of the original intent. I like that the reels are *parallel* crossover (Rshoulder) reels on opposite sides that end in partner's place and that, in the second reel, 1C switch roles/tracks to end home.

I do NOT like the prevalent idea that we need to make rules upon rules and that all of these funky, wacky, parallel reels need to be danced the same way so lets fix the dances even if they aren't broke! Agendas over common sense.

I DO like the idea of diversity, of having some freedom of interpretation inwith the basic rule bound framework of Miss Milligan's style of Scottish dancing. My 'original' (1953 edition) of Book 9 says nothing about how or where you end the reels. It leaves it up to the teacher and/or the dancers.

The reality is many young (read 'new') teachers don't have the money to buy the latest and greatest re-revised dance books. They usually get theirs passed on from the teachers who never updated their collection to the newest versions and are retiring. So the unrevised versions are out there and are going to be for quite some time to come. And there is going to be a long time conflict of differing versions.

When in Rome do like the Romans? In other words - Teach dancers the building blocks so they can dance to the briefing they are given, even if different from what they are used to. (Good luck).

A Summer Meeting :- Yes. This one. It is good. A simple minor 'tweak' of the standard fundamental reel of four. And so satisfying. Thumbs up Irene!

Half reels of four (with rotation), a poussette right round, and a bourrel. And that latter figure is the one that blew minds through out the room. It is not like they have never seen the figure before. It is not new to them. They love Barbara's Strathsepey (with a 3C bourrel). Can do it just fine. But tonight… a disaster. Sigh.

Berwick Johnny :- Boring. Tedious. Just my opinion of course. Truthfully it has been used for years, it is accessible to every one, it is available, and that much usage means it has real value.

Strathglass House :- the music makes the dance!

The Royal Deeside Railway :- Truthfully, the first several times I danced it I didn't like it. Too much fuzzy (fussy) timing too hard to describe so best not dealt with. Recently though I am finding I like it. If you don't try to specify the timing to the dancers they will just figure it out on their own and usually with out over thinking it. Parsing - It is a skill and it needs to be learned.

Red House :- Good dance. all the rage when I started dancing (in the stone age). Over done so it disappeared and I am glad it is beginning to make a come back in this area. The iconic recording (the one I learned the dance to, of course ;-)  ) is The Berkeley Scottish Player's version (Cabbage Records ). The other versions that I have heard have been decent, but their version seems to be inspired. The sound is, of course, very West Coast, and fiddle heavy but then I have always preferred fiddle to heavy handed accordion.

And to get back to the evening's them (reels, right) the Red House Reels are unique and lots, repeat lots, of fun, and I would love to do them more but would hate to burn out on the dance a second time. The 25 year hiatus was just too long. Too, I am not sure I would care to have other dances with the same reels. The music and dance are inseparable and I think the reels and the dance may also be inseparable. Darn ;-(

21 September 2015 - Scotia

Deborah taught the first hour, I taught the second hour.

The dances we taught:-

The Fairy Ring - (32 J n Circle) - Ian Boyd
Basic Knitting - (32 R 3) - Iachini
Braes of Breadalbane - (32 S 3) - Bk 21
Deil Amang the Tailors - (32 R 3) - Bk 14
_ _ _ _

The Cup -of-Gold Vine - (32 J 3) - C. Sigg
Dragonflies - (32 S 5some) - J. Lataille
Dancing in the Streets - (32 R 2) - Frans Ligtmans
Many Happy Returns - (32 S 3) - Briscoe
Arthur's Seat - (32 R 3) - 18C


The Fairy Ring :- very basic, almost a throwaway dance, but a good warm up for brains and feet. It gets you into the swing of things very gently. Good to have in your hip pocket as one of your "go-to" dances, and we all have them.

Basic Knitting :- One of Deborah's favorites. She is a knitter, spinner and weaver and this fits the theme. There is nothing in this dance of any complexity. Crossings and some casting is basically it, oh, and a back-to-back followed by lead up and cast. So what makes this one of the ugliest dances I have ever seen? Why the fact that very, repeat very, few dancers can 'stay in the dance' for even 32-bars. At any one point one (or more) couples have forgotten to start, or which hand to cross with, or which shoulder to cross by. A humbling experience for sure. We all have know-it-alls in our class. This dance will take them down a notch or two especially if the really basic nature of the dance is emphasized. Dance.

Braes of Breadalbane :- Its been years since I have danced this one. It used to be a regular on the area ball programs but it has a "knot", a difficult piece in it, that isn't all that rewarding. I think that is why it has slipped in popularity shall we say. The music is darn nice but not good enough to keep the dance dancing. Good to see it back but my legs have deteriorated enough that it is now hard work to nail the cast back and RH turn.

Deil Amang the Tailors :- Always fun. To a point.  But for some of us (myself and a few other dance monsters) same old same old, over and over and over… gets old. And the dance list (NY's version anyway) is too large, and there are too few groups inwith to really support the idea and nobody outwith the NY Branch has bought into the idea. There are no monthly social parties as in San Francisco; a third of the dances removed/replaced yearly; and we are still teaching to the upcoming events. The newest additions aren't taught unless they are on upcoming events. There are only 4 session parties and 2 balls by the NY Branch. But there are also the Boat Basin and Rerr Terr (NJ events) Drewry Night, New Haven Ball, Kilts and Ghillies Ball, Boston Ball, Del. Valley Ball, three, count them, three Hogmanay's,and NY's is aimed at ceilidh dancers to bring in new dancers to the country style. So when do we the teachers have a chance to teach the newest list dances so that they are familiar, no sweat, dances on a ball? The reality is: We are always teaching to a Ball prep or two.

And this was our attempt to break out of the "tyranny of Ball prep". Rethink, you think?
Is there another approach? Anyone?

The Cup-of-Gold Vine :- My choice for a ball opener. Simple, no setting, no slip step (very important that is). Thoughtfully engaging? Not really, but it is not a throwaway. In the two beta 'tests' I ran I got some positive responses. It works for what I want it to do. Thumbs up for a warm up.

Dragonflies :-  I love this dance! It is one of my top ten dances of all time.  I use Susie Petrov's  5x32 Strathspey set from her LP "Hold the Lass Till I get Her". It fits! The dance is becoming popular and I am now getting requests for it from the floor when serious dancing is over and we have time for a "fun" dance. I believe that this dance is good enough to become part of the standard repertoire.

Help me Make it So.

If you wish to purchase the book - Always Enough to Dance -
contact the Santa Fe class through Deborah Dennison at:

Dancing In the Streets :- I do not own a copy of this nice but simple dance by Frans Ligtmans. It is not listed on the SCDDB on Strathspey.

I am teaching off the cribs set out by the Nutmeg Workshop teachers.  I LIKE the entry into the Ladies Chain. I LIKE the closing chase that gets 1C into progressed place proper. This wee dance gets "only" two thumbs up because I only have two thumbs to give.  A lovely surprise.
** Recommended **

Does anyone have a copy of the original they could send me? Please oh pretty please?

Many Happy Returns :- A Mel Briscoe production. It is a nice dance and there is a wonderful recording to dance it to. Thumbs up!

Arthur's Seat :- Music by Dave Wiesler and Hanneke Cassel - Fabulous! Can we do it again?? Can we?