Houston & District RSCDS
Today the term “Scottish Country Dance” embraces the social, usually progressive, as opposed to round-the-room, dances of Scotland which have evolved from many traditions and are danced throughout the world with much pleasure by Scots and non-Scots alike.
The English Court of Elizabeth I was much taken with all things pastoral and thus the figure dances of the countryside, many set to Scottish or Irish tunes, became very popular and were called Country Dances. The constant influence of one European Court upon another meant that dancers were always absorbing new ideas of style and content. The greatest flowering of this form of dance was in the assembly rooms of the 18th century. Dancing in Edinburgh, during this period of enlightenment, emulating the European capitals and dance assemblies conducted with utmost decorum, flourished. Other cities and towns soon followed and dancing became an accepted part of social interaction.
Scotland, of course, had other traditions of dance and once north of the border the country dances incorporated features from older strathspeys, reels, rants and jigs, etc. This was now a style of dance with which the whole society of Scotland could feel comfortable. There was the elegance and courtesy of the “Country Dance” and the energy and precision of step of the old “Reels”. The Scots, with their “auld allies” the French, valued dancing for its own sake and often showed great skill and vigor.
Country dances continued to flourish in Scotland after they had died out in England and the then repertoire also included the new couple dances, quadrilles, and polkas. Dancing masters, who travelled extensively throughout Europe, taught the skills of dancing to all levels of society in Scotland. They were often skilled musicians and taught the older country dances as well as the newer, more fashionable dances. By the beginning of the 20th century the number of country dances appearing on programmes had dwindled but they were still popular and appeared regularly. The Great War of 1914-18 changed the world for ever, a generation had lost its men-folk, syncopated rhythms of jazz and ragtime were sweeping the country and the Scottish country dance had all but disappeared.
After the war Mrs. Ysobel Stewart of Fasnacloich (a distinguished family from Appin, Argyll) and Miss Jean Milligan (a teacher of physical education at Jordanhill Teachers’ Training College) resolved to restore the practice of the old social dances of Scotland and with them their music. These two committed and energetic ladies researched and collected dances from friends and family and assisted by Patersons Publications published their first book. After placing an advertisement in a Glasgow newspaper, a meeting was held on 26th November 1923 and the Scottish Country Dance Society was born. The title “Royal” was conferred upon the Society in 1951 and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II graciously consented to become its patron in 1952.
Since those early days the RSCDS has evolved to become a worldwide organization, with some 20,000 members. It is administered from the Headquarters in Edinburgh through a network of 170 Branches and around 400 affiliated groups all over the world. Mrs. Stewart, Miss Milligan and their associates were keen to see country dances restored to their dignified and sociable best and to that end, they encouraged classes and taught a new generation of dancing teachers. They introduced a measure of standardization, but were well aware of the regional variations in many of the popular dances which continue to this day. Without the dedication of these two ladies the world would probably have lost a unique cultural tradition, and perhaps even much of the music.
Today the aims and objectives of the RSCDS are stated as follows:
(a) To preserve and further the practice of traditional Scottish Country Dancing (SCD);
(b) To provide, or assist in providing, special education or instruction in the practice of SCD
(c) To promote/publish by all available means information and music relating to SCD and in particular to
publish or cause to be published descriptions of SCD with music and diagrams in simple form and at
(d) To collect books, manuscripts, illustrations and other memorabilia relating to SCD and the Society;
(e) Generally to do such other things as are or may be considered by the Society to be incidental or
conducive to the attainment of the objects above stated or any of them.
The RSCDS has always stressed the importance of the social nature of the dance form - giving plenty of opportunities for fun and friendship - but is equally concerned with upholding the standards of correct dancing technique. It is this unique blend of wonderful music, disciplined dancing, intricate floor patterns and sociability that appeals to so many people throughout the world.
During the past 75+ years many old printed books and manuscript collections have been searched for dances and their tunes. The dance instructions have been interpreted and sometimes adapted for modern use. The success of the genre is that now many new dances are composed in traditional form, new formations are introduced, new forms of progression are devised and new tunes written. The dances published by the RSCDS and distributed to members all retain the essential characteristics of the traditional country dance. The RSCDS also produces sound recordings and videos to accompany many of the books.
The RSCDS organizes an ongoing teacher training programme, both through the worldwide Branch network and at the Annual Summer School in St. Andrews. The Branches ensure that a wide variety of classes and social events are provided for all ages and all skill levels. The Branches can also provide qualified teachers to assist in schools and colleges and bring an important and enjoyable part of Scotland’s heritage to the younger generation.