by Kevin Scott
Dear Fellow Dancers, I have not been doing much dancing, in part because of Parkinson’s but mainly because of the final details of publishing a book, “The Voice of This Stone—Learning from Volcanic Disasters Around the World”. Each chapter is my experiences and scientific conclusions at each of many volcanoes around the Pacific Rim of Fire, plus Vesuvius and Campi Flegrei. The book has received great reviews and has a wonderful website, http://www.volcanicdisasters.com
I think, if you like volcanoes, you will like the book.
Teacher’s Corner: The Role of Dance Role Models
by Melissa Whitson
All of us are role models for newer dancers – either inadvertently or purposefully. Through observation, inexperienced dancers absorb our good and our not so good behaviors – including our dancing technique, styling and our social conduct. I know this first hand! When I was first learning to dance, I was bending my big toe under and dragging it behind me while I was bringing my trailing foot through as part of the strathspey travelling step. I did this because that is how I observed the teacher dancing the step. I did what she (inadvertently) demonstrated, not what she said when she made her teaching points.
The experienced dancers in the Portland and Vancouver area dance communities provide excellent role models overall. However, there are instances where we should ask ourselves if we are (inadvertently) presenting less desirable role models.
First, the good! In the below situations I think our experienced dancers set splendid examples:
- Newer dancers attending classes are actively welcomed.
- Their dancing efforts are encouraged.
- Information is shared, questions answered, and efforts are made to try to ease their entry into our dance community.
- Newer dancers are quickly asked to be dance partners.
- Experienced dancers patiently attend beginner level classes to lend support in numbers and spirit.
- Newer dancers receive invitations to non-dancing social events.
Second, here are examples of when we generally model beneficial behaviors but perhaps we could do so more consistently:
- Partnering with a variety of dancers. Why not make a point of asking someone to dance who, despite your good intentions, somehow rarely is your partner?
- Good-hearted and light-hearted acceptance of mistakes made by other dancers and by ourselves. Newer dancers need assurance that mistakes (by everyone!) are normal, common, and expected.
- Not over helping a newer dancer during a dance. It is confusing if multiple dancers in a set provide guidance to a newer dancer simultaneously; also, letting them learn from their own mistakes is sometime the most helpful.
- Proactive sharing of information about shoes, dress norms, and online resources.
Lastly, we should consider if we are being good role models in the following situations:
- Do we talk in class such that others may not be able to hear the instruction? Echoing halls and hearing loss can make even quiet talking problematic.
- Do we make unkind remarks about other dancers or teachers? These are our friends!
- Do we look at the floor when we could be giving a friendly face to another dancers, for example, when
- we cross or turn or reel or step up?
- Do we stomp our feet or click our heels during the change in direction in quick time circles? Yes, this can be fun but it’s not the SCD norm so perhaps it is not the best dancing style to be modelling for beginners.
- Do we dance with one (uninjured) arm behind our back? This is not SCD style and it might seem a bit unsocial to other dancers.
- Do we sometimes focus on our own fun, inadvertently to the detriment of others in the set?
- Do we lead down the middle so far that it is impossible to return on time for the next figure, thereby impeding other dancers from starting the next phrase on time?
- Do we dance quick time circles too fast so the change in direction is uncontrolled, not on the musical phrase, and other dancers may be pulled off their feet?
- Do we add extra twiddles and pivots that may confuse a newer dancer or impede another dancer from being where they need to be? Taking a few liberties with a dance can be good fun, but we should consider who is in the set and ask ourselves if it a considerate thing to do during the active teaching of a figure or portion of a dance.
- Do we have our shoes on and are ready by the start time of class (traffic and personal woes being worthy exceptions, of course)?
As we know, Scottish Country dancing is tremendous fun, and we don’t want to get overly fussy about styling and technique. That said, providing strong role models helps to develop our newer dancers and supports the continuing uniqueness of the Scottish Country dance style. Personally, I extend a big thanks to the experienced dancers in our community for their continuing efforts to grow our newer dancers; well integrated newer dancers will position our groups to be dancing strong in the years ahead.
I've certainly been guilty of some of these. It's worth it to be reminded of the fundamentals. ~ The Editor
First Time SCD
by Holly Gibson
From the January/February 2012 edition of The Scottish Country Dancer. ~ The Editor
If someone had told me a little over a year ago I would be involved in Scottish Country dancing my response would have been incredulous laughter. My dancing experiences consisted of a best forgotten year-long stint as a seven-year old ballerina and an occasional swing dance routine with college friends. So when my Mom, who lives 1,700 miles away but gets the local Lake Oswego paper, told me about an ad she had seen for a Scottish Country dance class practically in my backyard. My response was the typical “whatever” eye roll. I made a concerted effort to “forget” about the class. But as summer drew to a close and some of my other outdoor activities were winding up, I decided to give it a try. After all, it was free the first time and if, and I was sure when, I found Scottish dancing wasn’t my thing I wasn’t out any money and I could say I had tried it.
Except it didn’t quite work out that way. I don’t remember a lot about that first class, except no one else was in running shoes. But that didn’t seem to matter. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming and eager to help those of us who were new. We did a few simple dances, and it dawned on me that this was a lot of fun, not to mention great exercise that didn’t involve being out in the rain. Plus, there was this terrific music to listen to and almost be part of. The only downside to all this fun was having to admit to my Mom that she was right, something she won’t let me forget. But now the ghillie is on the other foot and she is the one rolling her eyes when I go dancing multiple times a week, plan my vacation return flight around the monthly dance in Lake Oswego, and walk to workshops wearing running shoes and a skirt.
by Martin MacKenzie
From the July/August 2012 edition of The Scottish Country Dancer. ~ The Editor
I'll exercise a little prerogative which I hope you'll all find in your hearts to forgive. For those who know, my mother Mary MacKenzie passed away in her home May 30th of this year, as far as those of us who remain can tell, exactly as she wanted it. However, this is not what I want all y'all to think of. She also came with us from time to time and observed our dancing.
This photo was taken at the "222" themed Vancouver spring dance in 2008. One of the things that Mom observed was, "The dancing looks complicated."
In her younger years, she had tried square dancing and, even later in life before her legs wouldn't support such endeavors, her neighbor across the street, Agnes, persuaded her to go to a beginning square dance class at her own square dance club. She found it a little too intense so soon after Dad's passing but it was interesting to me that she tried.
The moral of this story, at least as I declare it, is that we should make contact with observers and, if possible, encourage them to participate with us in the future. Show them your enjoyment of the dance and infect them with the disease!
Dancing in Scottish Castles Tour
by Susan Shaw
From the September/October 2005 edition of The Scottish Country Dancer. ~ The Editor
What would it be like to dance a Scottish dance in a Scottish castle? Imagine dancing "Ye'll Aye be Welcome Back Again", or any of the other dances from the Menzies manuscript (dated 1749), in Castle Menzies, where the manuscript was discovered!
Prompted partly by such romantic curiosity, John and I joined Ken McFarland's Dancing in Scottish Castles tour; and, in the company of about 30 other dancers and two musicians, we danced, walked, and toured our way across the width of Scotland, as well as a good bit of its height.
We were unprepared for the sights of original Edinburgh surrounding the castle. The sooty black gothic tower built in Sir Walter Scott's memory was hard on our eyes, but "new town" built at the end of the 18th century was charming. Modern shops crowd next to woolen mill outlets and Scottish items galore, including a full range of kilt attire. In August, cashmere scarves are on "SALE" throughout Scotland. Within walking distance of our hotel were several curved streets (called a "crescent") flanked by a row of tall townhouses. It turns out that the headquarters of RSCDS is in one of these crescents and a fun thing to do is to have your picture taken next to the large portrait of Miss Milligan.
Our tour took us south of Edinburgh across the Borders to Holy Isle on the east coast, then up through the Highlands and over to the Isle of Skye, which is part of the Inner Hebrides, and down to Ayrshire, the land of Robert Burns - all on the west coast. We were blessed with good weather and clear views the entire trip.
We learned that the first castles were built in the 12th century to protect against Viking invaders. In the 16th century, better and bigger castles were built on their ruins. Then, many castle-like mansions and large estates were built in the Victorian Medieval style in the early 1800s. We saw and/or danced in all three kinds of castles, as well as hotel ballrooms, to the music of Duncan Smith (piano) and Catherine Fraser (fiddle), the two fine Australian musicians who traveled with us.
One special memory was standing on the Brigadoon (bridge over the River Doon, in Ayr) and listening to fellow traveler Norm McCallum and John Shaw take turns reciting the Robert Burns' poem, Tam O'Shanter. It was on this bridge that the beautiful witch, Nanny (nicknamed Cutty Sark), was left holding the tail of Tam's horse as he sped across the bridge to escape her. (As we all know, a witch cannot cross a running stream.)
The ruins of the abbey, where Tam first spied the witches dancing "hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels," are just a short walk from the bridge, and in the graveyard there we saw the graves of Robert Burns' mother and father, who both outlived Robert by many years. It seems that all of Scotland loves Burns, and in Ayrshire he is everywhere. I loved the museum next to his birthplace cottage, which has an extensive collection of his original writings, including handwritten letters and tributes to friends written in perfect English as well as works in his native Scots tongue.
In the lowlands we visited the home built by Sir Walter Scott, the great historic fiction novelist, who loved to collect books as well as memorabilia from famous warriors and anything Scottish, including Rob Roy's sword and gun, Napoleon's journal and pen set, and full suits of armor from the 16th century. We all loved his walled flower garden, which was my favorite of all the gardens on the tour.
So, you get the idea that Scotland is a great place to visit, especially in August when the weather is the best, though the prices are the highest then - except for cashmere, of course.
When all the pictures are developed and sorted, we'd love to share.
John Drewry – a Bit About the Man Behind the Dances
by Melissa Whitson
In the last newsletter issue, I wrote about little notes John included in some of his dance booklets. In this issue, I’m writing a bit about the man himself.
John was born on July 14, 1923, the very year of the RSCDS’s founding. He was not a native Scotsman, being born in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, England. He found Scottish Country dancing (“SCD”) through a ramblers group and joined the Carlisle and Border Branch and attained his dance teaching certificate. While dancing there, Hugh Foss, the cryptographer and dance devisor, encouraged John’s efforts at dance devising.
Professionally, John’s career began in biochemistry and led to computer programming. In the 1960’s he accepted a biochemistry appointment at the University of Aberdeen and his residence in Scotland began.
John’s head for patterns and interest in music led to his copious output over the years of new dances and the creation of a number of new dance formations. Many of his newly created figures caught the interest of other devisors and have subsequently become standards of SCD, including: corner pass and turn, the rondel, set and rotate, petronella in tandem, espagnole, and half turn and twirl. The RSCDS included 13 of his dances in its publications and John himself published at least 47 books; his output exceeds 800 dances - what a creative and inspired mind! The continued popularity of some of his dances, including The Bees of Maggieknockater, The Blooms of Bon Accord, Bratach Bana, The Byron Strathspey, The Peat Fire Flame, and The Silver Tassie, is a testament to his abilities. His intriguing dances led to him being requested to teach all over the globe. These jaunts inspired yet more dances and books.
John has a reputation for devising complex dances although he wrote many that were not especially difficult. He is also known for being particular and descriptive about how his dances are to be executed. I like to think that he wasn’t being fussy but was using his teaching skills to help the dancers and their teachers. Indeed, sometimes he included the suggestion in his books that a dance only be danced a limited number of times through given its energetic nature.
Upon his death, the Teachers’ Association (Canada) undertook a project to create an index of all of John’s dances. I have excerpted below, from the foreword to the index, remarks written by John himself many years before his death.
How I Started Devising Scottish Country Dances
It all began with Flora (No, not Marge!). Flora was a member of our Dancing Class who had elastic legs which stretched remarkably when pulled ever so gently. Flora was not actually her name - just another leg-pull - and its use occasioned loud shouts of "You know that is not my name!". Ian, who had christened her "Flora", suspected that she secretly enjoyed the attention and quoted Queen Gertrude - "The lady doth protest too much, methinks".
"But to our tale:-" it was decided that we should make up a dance for Flora - just another leg-pull. After several attempts by various people, my reel was chosen; it was taught, without a name, to the class by Liz our teacher, who then, at the end, announced that we had just danced "Flora's Rant". The results can be imagined!
That dance has faded into history - I no longer even remember how it went - but the seed had been sown and started to grow. Dances began to appear. For some reason, which I cannot myself explain, I seem to have the ability to imagine new movements in dances. This may be related to a facility for geometry which I had at school often getting 100% marks in exams.
The first dance of any lasting value I devised was "A Trip to Tobermory" - a 24-bar strathspey - which I had printed on a leaflet. Liz took copies to St. Andrews (I had not advanced that far in those days) and gave one to Miss Milligan. A year or so later, this dance appeared on Younger Hall programmes at the Summer School and I felt that I had arrived!
In the meantime I had become a member of the Carlisle and Border Branch and, when I had produced a set of reasonably interesting dances, friends in the Branch organised a session to try them out. They were so enthusiastic that they encouraged me to produce a booklet of the best of the dances and the "Bon Accord Book" was the result. The first copies were duplicated by stencil (not printed) and I painted a design of a white rose and heather on pale blue card for the first hundred covers.
Sometimes ideas came to me with remarkable speed - for example:- "The Bonnie Lass of Bon Accord" was devised in about ten minutes while listening to a Jimmy Blair recording of the music. (The recording had no initial chord - hence the 8-bar introduction to the dance). The dance "Bratach Bana" was inspired by listening to the tune on the radio while I was camping on the shores of Loch Sunart near Strontian - I walked it through alone on the smooth sand. Occasionally I have woken up in the middle of the night with a complete dance in my head - this has happened spontaneously without my intending to make up a dance before going to sleep.
Very soon after I started devising dances, I met Hugh Foss who gave me tremendous encouragement. He supplied me with blank sheets and Lettraset stencils for setting out the music for the Bon Accord Book. This was a slow procedure - I think it took about twelve hours to prepare each tune.
The dance "Bon Accord" was devised in imitation of a Foss "fugue". It needed special music because it began with two twelve-bar phrases. Miss Winnie Carnie of Glasgow was kind enough to compose two tunes for the dance and the second had a quotation from "The Bonnie Lass of Bon Accord" in it. Miss Allie Anderson took a liking to the dance and it was included in the programme for "An Edinburgh Fancy" in 1966 ("A Trip to Tobermory" was also in the same programme). Since then, the programmes for "An Edinburgh Fancy" have almost all contained at least one of my dances, which I take as a great compliment.
I moved to Aberdeen in 1965 and the "Drewry" collection has grown and grown until it now numbers over four hundred dances. Many of them have been devised to satisfy requests and others for me to take with me when I have been invited to teach in far away places. (I do not always feel able to respond to some requests, like the one from a lassie who wanted a dance to show her boy-friend how much she loved him). From the humble beginnings of "Flora's Rant" in Cumberland, the dances have spread over the whole of the Scottish Country Dancing world and have resulted in my visiting many interesting places and forming many good and lasting friendships.”
In addition to dancing, John was an active hillwalker and camper and enjoyed gardening, cooking, and photography. He passed away at age 90 in Aberdeen, on June 18, 2014 but he certainly lives on through his dances and the joy they bring to dancers.