The Ghillie Gazette

The March/April 2017 newsletter of the Portland Oregon Branch of the R.S.C.D.S.

Learning Folk Dancing

by Tom Halpenny

Ken Dewire announced he would be traveling to Mexico for all of January, and he asked Carol Kirsch and Tom to run his Tuesday afternoon Folk Dance Club at the Marshall Center during his absence.

Folk Dancers

Ken plays recorded folk dance music from various countries and cultures and leads the dancers with a specific dance choreography for each music selection. We can view an example video clip at You would think that after attending Ken's folk dance for the past five years that Carol and I would be able to stumble through leading the dances. However the music titles have unrecognizable names and we are challenged to recall the choreography of the dances. Before departing on his trip, Ken prepared a playlist of twenty tracks, from his collection of about seventy music selections, for dances he thought that most of the dancers could do. We agreed to give it a go. The plan was that Tom would play the music and Carol would demonstrate the choreography of the dances.

Coincident with Ken's departure, he arranged for a newspaper article to appear in The Reflector, titled "Folk dancing club in Clark County offers health fun." The reporter interviewed Ken and me. I said that the focus is to gain a feeling for each dance.

Ken traveled to Mexico and we folk dancers met on our own for the first week, and we greeted one new dancer. We went through the music playlist in order. Carol and I observed that we were challenged to recall the choreography of many dances, but once we began playing the music, we immediately recalled the complete choreography. I demonstrated a couple dances, like Black Nag and Patty Cake Polka, and it helped my recall to vocally sound the music as we walked the steps. We covered eighteen dances of the playlist during one and a quarter hour.

During the second week, we greeted several new dancers who had read the December newspaper article. I am fascinated to meet new dancers with their fresh brains and observe how they gradually learn the dance skills. Learning progresses most quickly when we begin moving to music as soon as possible. Dancers join hands to transmit the feeling of the movements. All dancers typically are off-balance while learning a new dance, and we gradually gain the feeling of moving to the music. We followed the same process for three more weeks before Ken returned. The weekly repetition was helpful, and our ability to cover eighteen dances maintained variety and dancer interest.

The human brain and nervous system have an emotional Elephant side and a rational Rider side that Chip and Dan Heath explore in their book titled Switch. We need to train both sides to learn a dance. We can describe the choreography to the rational side, which foot to transfer weight with a step or to tap without a change of weight, and which path to travel. But the emotional side will learn the dance only when the music is played and we begin to gain the feeling of moving to music.

The Folk Dance Club meets Tuesdays 3:00-4:15pm year round at the Marshall Center in Vancouver with wonderful music from around the world. Cost is $1 until May, then $2. Contact Ken Dewire at or by phone at 360-216-6264.

RSCDS Management Board Meeting

by Tom Halpenny

Management Board Meeting

I attended the first RSCDS Management Board meeting 28 November 2016 for my final year of the three-year term. I attend most Saturday meetings remotely, beginning 2:30am our time and going until 7:00am. Approximately one third of the Board is replaced each year, so the Board ideally has continuity and fresh viewpoints represented. New Chairman Helen Russell has begun a two-year term, with a new Chairman-Elect and three new Board members attending.

I traveled to Edinburgh Scotland for the 14 January 2017 "Away Day" Saturday meeting with Management Board, the three management committees, and HQ staff, with in-person and remote attendance totaling 36 persons. This was my fifth and final trip. I have enjoyed visiting the HQ office on Friday, in order to meet the staff and have a chat with anyone who is available to talk for a few minutes and help me learn about RSCDS processes. The agenda for the Away Day was to determine committee owners to drive the actions of the strategic business plan, prioritize the actions, and define SMART objectives for the high-priority actions in order to measure success. I have gained the most value from meeting everyone and establishing the working relationships for the year.

Scotland 2016, Part One

by Martin MacKenzie

This summer, a lifelong dream of the MacKenzies of Clackamas was fulfilled in our August trip to Scotland. We made a rather whirlwind tour of the country traveling to each of these cities in turn; Glasgow, Perth, Ballachulish, Dornie, Huntly, Aberdeen, Edinburgh then back to Glasgow for the flight home. Because I'm the writer and was the leader of the expedition, this will reflect my own unique perspective. We're still digesting our experiences thus it makes sense to publish this in dribs and drabs.

We started out after arriving in Glasgow, with Tom and Hazel Ryan graciously picking us up at the airport then transporting us to the IBIS hotel near Charing Cross in downtown Glasgow, perhaps suspecting just how green we are at the whole international travel thing. Thankfully, this bypassed a bus journey from the airport after a long flight with our luggage in tow. After at least having a notion of where we were and managing to get some food in our bellies and a wee bit of sleep, we started exploring the nearby neighborhood. Just two blocks north from the IBIS hotel is Sauchiehall street. Some of you might remember that this sounds similar to "The Sauchie Haugh" strathspey dance which many of us have done One of my primary objectives was to check out St. Columba Church of Scotland as our little twig of the MacKenzies was reputed to have attended there before emigrating to the New World. We learned from a very helpful Session Clerk, Duncan Mitchell, that the current church is not the church that would have been around in those days. This church was built with railway money when the railway took over the land that the old church was built on. As Duncan described it, "We started with a more modest church, then we built a cathedral." Here's a few details concerning this church and its history: Like all but the most modern buildings, every bit of architecture here oozes history and ghosts of the past. Glasgow itself is on the one hand very old and on the other hand full of new energy and new construction and innovative architecture and ideas. In addition to our local walking about, we also took a hop on, hop off bus tour to become acquainted with the major sites. We also took in the various restaurants along Sauchiehall street, Hong Kong Chinese food, pub grub, and local coffee shop eats. As many of you know, I have an almost non-existent sense of smell. At the coffee shop I imbibed a fresh cup of peppermint tea that was so fresh I could actually detect its odor.

After Glasgow, we travelled by rail to Perth, near where the Ryans live in Scone. That was rather an adventure in and of itself as we discovered that one's initial information about a journey on the rail system is almost immediately out of date due to delays and other events. The key to understanding what was happening minute to minute was the automated reader boards that showed each train's ultimate destination, stops along the journey, and time of arrival at the platform. This is Scotland's main passenger rail system and is primarily used by commuters between Glasgow and Edinburgh but carries passengers between all of the major cities, including outliers like the capital of the Highlands, Inverness. We discovered quickly that this system is not necessarily friendly to tourists that are not travelling "Rick Steves light" but mistakes aren't terminal and railway employees and everyday Scots all helped us get "back on track." The system itself is very comfortable, very smooth, and swift.

Upon arrival at Perth, the Ryans kindly transported us to our hotel, The Salutation, in the downtown area. From their own website, "Reputed to be one of the oldest hotels in Scotland, the Salutation Hotel has been welcoming guests since 1699. Situated in the heart of the historic City of Perth and the Gateway to the Highlands, the welcome is as warm as it ever was, offering traditional hospitality with all modern comforts." It has seen many famous visitors from the Beatles to David Bowie as well as a former British Prime Minister. This was a good place for us to continue to somehow bring our bodies and minds into the new time zone and to begin exploring modern Perth. Perth is very old, once a port town, with a compact and very easily walkable downtown area. There's a very old church in the downtown area called St. John's which has an unusual way of entering the building. Instead of climbing stairs into the building, one goes down stairs. The reason for this is that the church has not sunk into the ground but the surrounding earth has been climbing up the sides of the building in the centuries since its initial construction. Perth was the base from which we began other journeys, up to Glen Lyon and Kenmore in the Highlands. Also, once the rental car was picked up, we began initial forays onto Scotland's roads and a wee journey to Scone palace where we enjoyed learning of Scotland's history and a little bit of Hanoverian propaganda, i.e. the British royal family's attempts to trace themselves all the way back to Celtic Scotland in an apparent bid to obtain more legitimacy. We also enjoyed "scaawwwns in Scoooone" in the tea shop in the basement area of the palace and the company of a former teacher from Southhampton in England. We also enjoyed a lecture from a local archeologist that was called in to excavate and document a plot of land that was slated for developement but was found to have the remains of an abbey on site. I also began learning just how narrow the roads were there but with care, they were safely navigable.

From there, after three days in Perth, we headed west to Ballachulish, the original home town of my father's family, in Argyll which is Appin and Stuart country. The journey was demanding of my attention thus I spent little time looking anywhere outside the vehicle but at the road and other road users though Eunice and Katherine kept their eyes peeled and photographed sites as we drove along. Katherine did this in addition to her primary duty of managing the GPS system on the phone as unfortunately, the GPS that the Ryans loaned us wasn't usable because the cigarette lighter jack wasn't functional to charge its internal batteries. I must state here that my daughter performed magnificently, especially in our journey later on into downtown Aberdeen. We landed at Taigh na Eilidh (Eilidh's house) in Duror, a B & B down the coast from Ballachulish. During the journey, we stopped to remember the tragic events at Glencoe and tour the site of the Campbell's massacre of the MacDonalds under orders from the British government to teach the then current MacDonald chief a lesson. Though the sadness of that history is palpable, the countryside and surrounding hills are beautiful country. After attending service at St. Mary's in Glencoe 7 August, we made a visit to the old slate mine in Ballachulish. This place is historic as much of Scotland's buildings and housing are roofed in Ballachulish slate and this industry helped support the local village in addition to the usual activities like crofting and raising of cattle and sheep. Scotland rather drowned us that day but having said that, it was well worth the visit.

The 1, 2, 3’s of Dance SET Structure

by Cynthia Soohoo

T'o discuss how a selection of tunes is ordered within a SET to complete the music for a single dance, numerals are used.

A dance deviser has the option of choosing a tune to be associated with his dance. This is called the “name” tune or “lead” tune, and is assigned the numeral 1 for the sake of discussion.

A typical dance goes by the label 8x32, meaning that a single repetition of the dance is 32 bars long, and it is to be danced 8 times through. It seems like there are no hard and fast rules about ordering tunes within a set, but in Muriel Johnstone's RSCDS book, A Guide to Music in the Teaching of Scottish Country Dancing, she does instruct the musician to use the "name tune" (aka "lead tune") as bookends to begin and end the dance: 1-XXXXXX-1 = 8 times

Scottish country dancers seem to like variety, so musicians commonly select 3 additional tunes to complement the designated lead tune. The most common tune order for an 8x dance, starting with a collection of 4 tunes, is 1234-234-1. (The hyphens don’t mean anything, except to make the string of numbers more easily grasped.)

If the set uses only three tunes total, then a common order would be: 123-123-2-1. Muriel Johnstone’s book does give one example that has consecutive repetition of the tunes, so that each couple dances to the same tune both times as first couple, but note that she still uses the lead tune as bookends: 11-22-33-11. On the other hand, in live performance I have heard her abandon the bookend guideline and play a 3x set in the order 1-2-3, where 1 was the lead tune.

Sometimes a musician may be asked to convert an 8x set to a 10x set. Usually this is easily done by ordering the tunes 1234-1234-2 (or 3)-1.

SET Structure The ABC’s of Dance TUNE Structure

by Cynthia Soohoo

Now, sometimes there are C’s, but more commonly there are only A’s and B’s.

A typical Scottish tunes is 32 bars long, with an 8-bar "A" section and an 8-bar "B" section, each of which is repeated.

  • 32 bars = A + A + B + B = 8 + 8 + 8 + 8

From a musical standpoint, there are some preferred conventions for ordering of the A's and B's, but the phrase order can usually* flex to serve the dance, as long as:

  • a) the tune always starts with A, and
    b) there should be a total of 16 bars of A and 16 bars of B.

Therefore the following orders are possible:

  • AABB

A dance musician would look over the dance instructions, to determine whether the dance phrases form a pattern that could be reflected in the music. For example, in Flowers of Edinburgh, bars 1-16 are two parallel 8-bar phrases: Chase-set, chase-set. Therefore the musician would want to play AA for those bars, leaving BB to complete the dance. It doesn't matter that the last two dance phrases are not parallel to each other. If a dance had 4 unrelated phrases, as often happens, there would still need to be a repetition of the A and the B parts somewhere, and it would be the musician’s choice of how to order them--- usually either AABB or ABAB.

Mairi's Wedding is an interesting case. A dance teacher from the UK once complained to me that it's almost always done incorrectly on recordings. The dance itself is 40 bars, but the designated tune has only an A part and a B part, so either the A or B part will have to played a third time to provide 8 additional bars of music. Following guidelines a) and b) above, and eliminating the possibility of playing one part three times in succession to avoid tedium, we are left with the following possibilities: AABBA, AABAB, ABABA, ABABB, ABBAA, ABBAB.

The dance itself is comprised of five 8-bar phrases, which can be numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 for our discussion. A look at the dance instructions shows that phrases 2 and 3 are parallel, both consisting of half diagonal reels of 4. Of the possibilities just listed in the previous paragraph, the first four do not reflect that and should be eliminated, leaving possibilities ABBAA and ABBAB. Nearly all tunes are composed to sound more final when ended with the B part, so the second option would be preferable.

*Other factors influencing phrase order:

1. If an A or B parts ends in an unusual harmony, such could have implications for what could immediately follow that tune.

2. Also, especially in the case of some very old tunes, sometimes an A and/or B part might be comprised of only 4 bars of material that is repeated in order to equal the required 8 bars. For example, call the 4-bar segment “a”. Then A = a + a. Hence AA = a+a+a+a, which could sound very repetitious. Therefore it would preferable to order such tunes as ABAB.

In the case of a particular modern strathspey dance I once encountered, the deviser unfortunately chose this type of old tune for her dance, which started with 2 parallel 8-bar phrases, leaving the musician in a quandary: Be true to the form of the dance structure, or spare the dancers tedious repetition?

Upcoming Events

Here's a list of events coming up in the next ninety days. This calendar is kept up to date at

April 2019

Vancouver, Wash.
4/27 at 6:00pm

May 2019

Burlingame Water Tower, Portland, Ore.
5/11 at 7:30pm
Portland AGM
Burlingame Water Tower, Portland, Ore.
5/20 at 7:30pm

June 2019

Portland Class
Burlingame Water Tower, Portland, Ore.
6/3 at 7:30pm


If you want to vote in the Annual General Meeting (AGM), your membership must be renewed before the Meeting, which is the second Monday in May.

If your are not a current member, you can register here.

Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, Portland Ore. Branch:
Membership Form 2018-2019

Membership Type:

Note for families: Join at the family rate only if there are two adults; a single adult should join at the single rate.

A “secondary” membership is for people who already have their RSCDS membership through another branch and want to become members of our branch. The “Ghillie Gazette Only” option is for people who have not yet decided to join the branch but would like to receive the newsletter.

Please make check payable to “RSCDS Portland OR Branch” and mail or give to Sally Palmer, 1425 SE Yukon St., Portland, OR 97202-5315 . We cannot process your membership request until we receive your check.

Is Scottish Country Dance fun?