Scottish Dancing as Kinesthetic History

Candace, 09 September 2009, No comments
Categories: Dance, History

For as long as I can remember dancing has been a large part of my life. You might call me a dance junkie. I’ve taught ballet and taken whatever classes I could find: swing, ballroom, tap, modern… I’ve let that drift away while attending grad school. There just isn’t enough time in a day to do everything. However, that’s not today’s story.

Tonight I went to an Open House of the Royal Scottish Country Dancing Society in my hometown. We learned three dances using two basic steps – nothing too strenuous, but a fine introduction – the purpose of the evening.

During the break, I spoke with one of the regulars, born and raised in Scotland. Everyone there, she said, learned the dances in elementary school and at every wedding and social gathering there would be dancing. Everyone joined in. No inhibitions.

These are social dances. They’re for ordinary folk to do at the end of the day or on weekends or whenever. They don’t require years of training to perfect, no special costumes or makeup or footware… Certainly there are specialty items (kilts, ghillies, sashes) to make the dance more fun, but nothing that is essential or a barrier to joining.

What there is, here at least, is a friendly group of people, having fun, moving around a bit, and enjoying each other’s company with music.

Tonight, doing these dances I felt connected to dancers across time and place. Dances are set and I was given the impression that they haven’t changed all that much over the years. The music and patterns are the same here as they are 100km away or 1000 or 100,000. When the leader calls Jamie’s Jig people know what to do no matter where or when they learned the dance. There is history here.

It’s kinesthetic history if there is such a thing. How long have these movements been done this way? Who set them? Why? I’d sure like to ask.

Is there anyone studying this? Who is curious about how dances travel across place and time? Even though I’ve read plenty of ballet history I don’t recall ever feeling curious this way before. Maybe because I’m so wrapped up in history these days (what with the whole Masters thing) I’ve learned to consider things in their context more readily. It’s definitely opened up a new area for me to contemplate.

And I’m definitely anxious to go back next week.


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