The Mortdale Scottish Country Dance Club

Every Wednesday night the Mortdale Scottish Country Dance Club meets at Mortdale Uniting Church for an evening of Scottish country dancing. Members of the group agree that Scottish country dancing is a challenging activity; it is very satisfying when you remember all the footwork and patterns of the different dances and don’t make a mistake at one of the social dance events. Margaret likes the complexity of the dances:

‘You know it is good brain activity. It is like meditation, you can’t think of anything else so while it sounds contrary, it is actually very relaxing.’[1]

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Image: The Mortdale Scottish Country Dance Club performs at Hurstville Museum & Gallery in 2018.

Pamela who teaches the group, started the Mortdale Scottish Country Dance Club in 2004 and some members have attended the club right from the beginning. Pamela enjoys teaching a small group of about eight dancers per week: ‘I enjoy being able to watch what I have taught and I can see that they are all enjoying what I am doing.’[2] At the end of the class everyone enjoys a cup of tea together.

Put on your dancing shoes

Ladies usually wear black ballet shoes but can also wear Ghillies shoes which the men wear. Ghillies are a popular dance footwear, with lots of cross over laces and a thin layer of suede underneath which makes them smooth and perfect for dancing on floorboards. A red, black, and white tartan sash is worn by the female members of the Mortdale Club when they dance at social events and public demonstrations. They also wear a red skirt and white top to complete their uniform. The men wear a kilt or black trousers, white shirt and a tartan tie.

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Image: Spotlight display at Hurstville Museum & Gallery.

A social get-together all around the world

Today’s Scottish country dancing evolved from the ballroom dances of Scotland and England in the 18th century. Figurative countryside dances can even be traced back to the English Court of Elizabeth I in the 16th century.[3] Two Scottish women, Ysobel Steward and Jean Milligan, initiated the formation of the Scottish Country Dance Society in 1923. They wanted to make sure that the standards of Scottish country dancing and music were maintained. The first branch in Sydney was established in 1952.[4] Today, Scottish country dance clubs are spread all over the world. You can go and join any social dances in almost every country. ‘The nice thing about it is that we go to the socials, we get people from all over Sydney, … you get to get these little connections from people, who live out Epping way and out west, Camden and Campbelltown. So you get to meet people from across Sydney, never mind across the world.’[5]

A universal set of patterns

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Image: Dance diagram made by Keith Rose, Bedford Scottish Dance Group.

To view a video of this dance, click here.

Scottish dancing is very mathematical with lots of precise steps and figures. Usually it is danced in groups of two to eight couples, arranged in two lines or a square. There are a set of different formations, and each dance is a combination of formations put together into sequences. All over the world, dancers learn the same formations: that’s why you can join social dances everywhere – it is universal. There are faster dances, such as the reels, hornpipes and jigs, and movements with a slower strathspey tempo, performed to music which usually involves a fiddle, piano and accordion.[6] Besides learning all the different figures, there are some steps to learn too. Four basic steps, the slip step, skip change, pas-de-basque and step up (or down) cover almost all of the quick tempo dances.[7] Explore the different Scottish Country Dance formations here.

This text was originally produced for the spotlight display, The Mortdale Scottish Country Dance Club, on show at Hurstville Museum & Gallery from February – July 2019.

 

References

[1] Maggie Craig – Lees, interview with Birgit Heilmann, 18 July 2018.

[2] Pamela Jehan, interview with Birgit Heilmann, 18 July 2018.

[3] The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, What is SCD?, https://www.rscds.org/article/what-is-scd-2, accessed 7 November 2018.

[4] Scots on the Rocks, 60th Anniversary of RSCDS Sydney, http://sotr.org.au/60th-anniversary-of-rscds-sydney/, accessed on 8 November 2018.

[5] Maggie Craig – Lees, interview with Birgit Heilmann, 18 July 2018.

[6] RSCD Leeds branch, What is Scottish Country Dancing?, http://www.rscdsleeds.org.uk/about_scottish.html, accessed on 7 November 2018.

[7] Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary, Steps for Jigs, Reels and Hornpipes, https://www.scottish-country-dancing-dictionary.com/steps-for-jigs-reels-and-hornpipes.htm, accessed on 8 November 2018.

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