Scottish Country Dance
Scottish Country Dance
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Scottish Country Dance is a unique blend of music; disciplined dancing, intricate floor patterns and sociability that has appeal throughout the world. The origins of dancing in Scotland are obscure with no mention in early documents until around the 16th century of Mary Queen of Scots when her reputation as an excellent dancer apparently added to her charming the French court. With one European court frequently influencing the other it meant that new ideas of style and content were adopted and possible that she helped introduce it on her return to Scotland.

In the Elizabethan court of England rustic figure dances often set to Celtic tunes called 'country dances' were popular. By the late 16th century new European ideas changed many emblems of Scottish society including music which changed from harp to pipes. It is at this time that the word reel first appears and in the following century Ports, possibly the forerunner of slow Strathspeys are also recorded. The Hebridean singing of a 'port-a-bail' (mouth tune) was mentioned in the 12th century and traditionally thought to be accompanied by dancing but generally in Scotland, as in Europe, by the 17th century dancing was popular. With the introduction of the viol, the fiddles forerunner, it set the scene for the emergence of the fiddle and dancing to become a new vogue for socialising.

Donald Dubh on trial at Inverary in 1677 for cow stealing tried to avoid the gallows by claiming he played his 'trump' (Jaws harp) while fairies danced suggesting this was a popular instrument for dancing. Later in 1700 James MacPherson ('MacPherson's Rant,') before being hanged danced his fiddle tune and when his offer of the instrument to the public before execution was rejected he smashed it to pieces. Cow stealing went out of fashion and enough musicians avoided execution or slaughter at battle to help country-dance continue to flourish. Post Culloden saw many Strathspeys composed for fiddle and played by masters such as Neil Gow, this together with, Reels, Hornpipes and Highland Flings often mentioned dancing as a favorite Highlander amusement.

As Lowland Edinburgh became the focal point of the Scottish Enlightenment, polite dance assemblies flourished and other cities and towns soon followed making country dancing an accepted part of socialising. Other traditions of dance existed but once they appeared in Scotland the country-dances were modified to include elements from the old strathspeys, reels, rants and jigs to create a style of dance comfortable with all Scots. Country Dance had vigor but it was also elegant, courteous and skillfully precise. One tradition that carried on until the middle of last century was to take lessons from dancing masters to develop skills. These masters were often skilled musicians and in demand to teach the older country-dances as well as new popular dances like quadrilles and polkas to all levels of society. Scott Skinner, the Strathspey King, renowned for his fiddle playing also taught Queen Victoria dancing at Balmoral in 1868.

Country dance died out in England, but in Scotland it's popularity continued and by the the 20th century though the volume of country dances on programs had fallen they still appeared regularly. World War One 1914-18 changed all that as American jazz and ragtime reduced Scottish Country Dance to a relic of its past glory. In 1923 a desire to restore the old dances and music and the Scottish Country Dance Society was created by Ysobel Stewart and Jean Milligan. They researched and collected dances and by publishing them restored them and encouraged classes and dancing teachers. Country-dance is a social experience but correct technique is equally important. Dances are performed to strict standards, but regional variations are allowed for many popular dances. By the early 1950's the Society gained the title 'Royal' and Queen Elizabeth II became patron. Its membership has since grown into a worldwide organisation with Headquarters in Edinburgh and many affiliates.

Jimmy Shand, perhaps the most notable exponent of the music reached the UK Pop charts with his Bluebell Polka in the mid 50's and was said to have influenced the likes of John Lennon of the Beatles with his strict tempo accordion playing. Today the main instrument is accordion and many bands play throughout the land for country-dance enthusiasts during the season. Whether the accompaniment be accordion, fiddle or bagpipe it is a distinctive music and one of the first things that come to mind when considering an image of Scottish culture: groups of tartan clad dancers with cheery hearts skipping nimbly, clicking thumbs, clapping hands and even singing the tune while going through the exact motions of the old forms. Opposite is a list of some of Scotland's Scottish Country Dance musicians and Bands held in high esteem globally by aficionados of this great Scottish tradition.

Jimmy Shand. Ace accordion player in Scottish Country Dance
  1. Jimmy Shand
  2. Fergie MacDonald
  3. Neil Gow
  4. Alisdair MacCuish
  5. Jim Johnston
  6. Jim Lindsay
  7. Graham Mitchell
  8. Bobby MacLeod
  9. James Scott Skinner
  10. Angus MacPhail
  11. Sandy Legget
  12. Carseloch Ceilidh Band
  13. John Carmichael
  14. David Cunningham Jr
  15. Lomond Ceilidh Band
  16. Don MacLeod
  17. Skipinnish
  18. Nial Kirkpatrick
  19. Ian Cruikshanks
  20. Gordon Pattullo
  21. Scottish Fiddle Orchestra
  22. Black Rose Ceilidh Band
  23. Gordon Shand
  24. Deoch 'n Doris
  25. Eddie Quinn
  26. Hamish Gow
  27. Simon Howie
  28. Wick Scottish Dance Band
  29. Wallochmor Ceilidh Band
  30. Scott Harvey
  31. Ballochmyle Ceilidh Band
  32. Vatersay Boys
  33. Ian Hudson
  34. Ian Cathcart
  35. Marion Anderson
  36. Jim Cameron
  37. Lindsay Ross
  38. Raymond Chuchuk
  39. Jennifer Forest
  40. Charlie Kilpatrick
  41. Glencraig Scottish Dance Band
  42. Danelaw Band
  43. Phamie Gow
  44. Colin Finlayson
  45. John Renton
  46. Glenelven Dance Band
  47. Colin Dewer
  48. Clyde Valley Dance Band
  49. Last Tram to Auchenshuggle
  50. Coila Ceilidh Band

Tartan. heather and the lion rampant. Emblems of Scotland