Murder on the Dancefloor: A New Dance

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We're fools whether we dance or not, so we may as well dance – Japanese proverb

I’ve written before about the Calum's Road project in The Gambia – how my husband and several motor biking friends undertook a sponsored ride to raise the funds for the project , how the road was completed despite last minute setbacks, and I described the official opening. I’ve also recently become more proficient at Scottish Country Dancing, and so I decided to create a dance to the piece of music also called Calum's Road. I was able to check on an online dance database that there already existed a dance to this piece of music, and so I added an SK to the end of the title of mine, for Sambel Kunda.

Scottish country dancing is made up of a number of recognised elements such as reels, circle round, rights-and-lefts, and figures of eight. Dances composed of these figures are given individual names, for example The Reel of the 51st, The Pebble and the Penguin, Dreamcatcher, or The Bediant Royal. Often each named dance will tell a story, or be inspired by events. New dances are created all the time, to mark special occasions. One which is currently gaining in popularity is the Kandahar Reel, written by two officers from the Black Watch, named after a province in Afghanistan, and using movements which symbolise the rotors of various helicopters.

The music for Calum's Road is a 32-bar strathspey, which is an unusual and slower step than the other main forms of dances, being jigs and reels. Using standard notation, the dance is written like this:

Calum's Road SK

32 bar strathspey for 3 couples

  • Bars 1-4 : 1s and 2s Right Hand wheel half way. 1s and 3s Left Hand wheel half way
  • Bars 5-8 : 1s turn 2 hands right round, and cast up to 2nd place. 3s step down.
  • Bars 9-16 : 2s and 1s dance the Ladies Chain. Ladies cross giving right hand, men dance slightly towards the advancing lady and turn her left hand. Repeat to return to place.
  • Bars 17-24: 1s cross passing by the right shoulder, no hands, and cast up into reflection reels on the sides with the 2s and 3s. Finishing positions 2-1-3, all on the opposite side.
  • Bars 25-28: All join hands and set, cross giving right hand.
  • Bars 29-32 : 1s facing down, 3s facing up, join hands with partner. Set, and cross giving right hands.
  • Finish 2-3-1

This dance starts with 2 wheels, and takes the first couple right down to the foot of the set. This represents the motor bikers on their sponsored ride from the original Calum's Road on Raasay, Scotland, down to Sambel Kunda in The Gambia, raising over £40,000. This was one of the main sources of income for this project.

The central figure in the dance is the Ladies Chain (although it's performed back-to-front, as some of the dancers are on the opposite side to where they usually would be). This represents the passing of the challenge from Stella Brewer to her sister Heather Armstrong. These ladies grew up in The Gambia, and Stella was constantly coming up with schemes to improve the lives of the locals. She started the Horse and Donkey Trust, which helped to treat injured animals, but also encouraged good practice and healthy looking after of the donkies and horses which were such a vital part of transport. She started Stella’s School Scheme, and set up a village clinic. She even founded a chimpanzee sanctuary. The re-building of the main road linking the village to nearby towns with their markets, schools and hospitals, was her last project, and when she knew she was dying, she made her sister promise that she would make this dream happen. This inspired even more music, in this case a piece called Stella's Dream.

The reflection reels represent the river Gambia. This massive waterway is teeming with life, from hippos to alligators, and the verdant trees all about are full of a dizzying variety of birds.

The final section with crossing and giving hands represents the last stages of the work done on the road, where Heather was getting everyone to lend a hand, even driving machinery herself to make sure the project would be completed before the rainy season started.

Now, all you need to do is find five other willing participants, locate a copy of the music, and off you go!

Murder on the Dance Floor Archive


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