We're fools whether we dance or not, so we may as well dance – Japanese proverb
Murder on the What-now???
Yes folks, it's been a while, but I have dug out my dancing shoes from the back of the closet, blown the cobwebs from them, choked in the ensuing dust cloud, and taken my place once more on the dance floor. And this time it's... Scottish country dancing!
What's that, I hear you cry, all dashing white sergeants and Kenneth McKellar singing 'Donald Where's Yer Troosers'? Well, there's a bit of that I suppose, but so much more as well.
Where did this spring from?
We'd attended a couple of Scottish ceilidhs while visiting Skye, and had been much impressed at this sort of dancing as a social occasion. For small and remote communities such as those on the Scottish islands, these get-togethers are a high spot of the entertainment calendar. Everyone dances with everyone else, so it's a great way to get people mingling. Young and old all join in. Blokes don't seem to find it too airy-fairy and intimidating, so there's always a good supply of menfolk (always a welcome thing in dancing). Visitors are encouraged to have a go. Nobody fusses too much about technique, as long as you've got the basics.
So when we discovered that there were classes just up the road from us, we agreed to sign up. We were a little bit wary on the first night – Scottish dancing is seen as a big part of the whole Ulster-Scots heritage, which can have political overtones in Northern Ireland, and we weren't sure if we would have to sign in blood, or join some wacky allegiance to a larger organisation. But we needn't have worried.
I had spoken to the organiser before the first class, and she'd been very helpful and encouraging (especially since I promised to bring a man along, and one with his own kilt at that!). So at 8 o'clock on a dark and windy Monday night we parked at the church hall and waited until someone else got out of their car who looked like they might be going to a Scottish country dance class, so that we could follow them.
There were about 20 people in the hall when we entered – about our age and older. And they were smiling. I started to relax. I've almost given up on any aerobics classes at the gym because they're so full of young fit things bouncing about at breakneck speed to distorted high energy dance tracks played at ear-shattering volume….so I was looking forward to some form of exercise that was taken at a sensible pace and with a sensible decibel level of music. (Oh dear, I have turned into a Grumpy Old Woman haven't I?)
We started with a gentle warm up – all good stuff, we don't want any pulled muscles at our age do we. And then into learning our first dance.
The first new step we had to learn was "rights and lefts". This involved dancing around in a square shape, taking alternate right and left hands with partners, until you arrived back at your original staring place. There was the usual confusion about which right – yours or mine, and which way to turn, and if you were couple number one at the head of the set, when you moved down were you still couple number one? It was all very good natured stuff, and a reassurance that everybody was learning together. We learned a few other steps – I still don't think I've got the hang of the Reel, doing a figure of 8 around two other people, but soon we had enough to begin a dance. We tried the Fisherman's Reel, which is very fast, and can be a bit confusing as you and your partner are constantly switching places around the square. My word it's good exercise! I took off as many layers as modesty would permit, and made a note to bring a bottle of water the next time.
Quick quick slow
We had a break for tea/ coffee and announcements at 9.00. Once again, I was really impressed at how well run the class is. There were printed sheets of all the dates of future classes, plus the promise of two up-coming events – a fun dance in October, and formal dance for St Andrews Day at the end of November, as well as details of other classes available in the area on other nights of the week, for the super keen. It was good to know that there was a big social element to this dancing, and I could see Dai's eyes light up at the opportunity to wear his kilt.
Break over, it was back into dancing – this time the slower speed Strathspey steps. We practised our "step-close-step-swoosh" round in a circle, before learning the steps for a simple Strathspey dance called Jenny's Bawbee. This involved a movement called the Allemand (or possibly Alan Maud, or maybe A la mode…) where couples one and two change places by dancing round in a square in their couple, man's right arm round lady's shoulder holder holding her right hand, closely following each other. Gosh that doesn't look right written down – it's hard to describe dance moves using only the medium of the English language!
That successfully executed, we finished the night with another fast paced dance, and then a gentle cool down (gotta watch those muscles!)
My overall first impressions were very favourable: it's a great form of exercise, it's enormous fun, it has a social element to it (we met another couple we knew from dog training, plus an old work colleague), and it's a whole new skill! And besides, what else is there to do on a cold and dark Monday evening?