BackScottish Dances

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No-one seems to worry about copyright in Scottish Dance Instructions!  There's MiniCrib which is widely used when publishing dance programmes in advance, and which contains descriptions of over 6,000 Scottish Country Dances, many with videos.  The law says that you can copyright your own wording of your dance but you can't copyright the actual figures — someone else can describe your dance in other words and even publish their description in a book.  So I feel justified in explaining some Scottish dances in my own words.  Music however is copyright, so I've only given that if the tune is publicly available.  There are lots of recordings of Scottish dance music available.  I particularly like “Free Spirit” and “On Track” by Sound Company — a band I've called with many times.  They don't have the “heavy” sound you can get with two accordions and drums, and their music is great fun.  These recordings are deliberately tunes which are not associated with a specific dance.  Scottish dancers are very insistent about using the “correct” tune for the dance — but equally they expect the band to play three other tunes in a medley!  You don't have to follow these rules.  If I'm playing for a Scottish dance which goes 8 times through I would probably use two tunes — maybe the first tune three times, the second tune three times and back to the first for the final two.  Scottish bands typically play 1-2-3-4-2-3-4-1 so that they start and finish on the “original” tune, and I'm told this is just so that they can keep their place since the MC (unlike a caller) won't tell them when to stop — I have personal experience of this problem!  It's not a law of nature, and it's not how the dances were originally done, so don't stand any nonsense from Scottish dancers who tell you you're playing it all wrong!  If the dance is only three or four times through I would definitely stick with just the one tune.

Many Folk Dance Clubs in England know “Trip to Bavaria” and “Postie's Jig”, but there are so many other good Scottish dances which they would enjoy if they were exposed to them.  One piece of advice to callers: if you say “Here's a Scottish dance”, many people won't get up.  They think it will be too complicated, or they're afraid they'll have to do a skip-change step the entire time.  So after you've finished the walkthrough, suggest that if they're up to it the dance would benefit from a skip-change step, some or all the time.  When they've finished and are applauding — that's the time to tell them it was a Scottish dance!

Here are some that I've called successfully at English clubs and festivals.  I'm not saying they're all easy, but I've tried to give helpful hints on teaching them.  I suggest you also read my page on English meets Scottish.  I'm writing this page for English callers and dancers, and some Scottish Dance teachers may throw up their hands in horror at descriptions which the RSCDS would never countenance.  I suspect that the top teachers would be pleased with my attempt to introduce English dancers to Scottish dance — it's the less secure ones who will feel threatened.  In fact I've now had approval from the very top!  I sent this page to Andrew Kellett, whom I've known since we ran some Anglo-Scottish dances together at Cecil Sharp House many years ago, asking for his comments.  He replied:

I applaud anyone who is seeking to spread knowledge of Scottish country dances.  They can be challenging but they are great fun.  You do it in your way, but it's your site, so go for it.

Andrew Kellett, Scottish dance caller and RSCDS Chairman 2018-20

3 Couples

Auld Teaghlaigh Gradh  

I'm particularly pleased with this one because I helped write it.  But it's a genuine Scottish dance, written by a Scotswoman living in Scotland, and I think it's a good introduction to the Strathspey step for English dancers.

Crossing the Line        Print this danceTop of page

Format: 3 couples longways.
Dance: John Drewry -- Bankhead Book Part 6, 1996.
Music: 6 x 32 bar Scottish reels — original tune by George Meikle

A1:Ones cross down through the twos to dance reels of three on the opposite side, finishing still on the opposite side at the top in promenade hold facing down.
A2:Ones as a unit dance a reel of three across the set with the twos, passing the second man right shoulder to start.  The twos finish in top place as…
B1:Ones dance down the middle into half figure eight down through the threes.  Ones right-hand turn and face out on your own side.
B2:Ones loop right as the others Petronella turn into a column (ladies above, men below, facing partner); ones dance through this couple as they set.  Ones loop to second place as the others Petronella turn to the opposite side; all set in lines.

English dancers shouldn't have any problem with the first half.  Don't let them rush the B1 moves, and they need to let go a little early in the right-hand turn so that at the end of the music they're facing out towards their own wall but still have the clockwise momentum from the right-hand turn.  B2 of course has to be coordinated, but it's really not difficult.

There's always a barrage or protest when I announce, “And that's one turn of the dance”, because they're all improper.  Then I ask them whether they know what “Crossing the line” means.  The line is the equator, and it's well-known that “down under” everything is upside-down!  So the bottom couple start the second turn of the dance, and you need to run the dance 6 times through before everyone is home.

4 Couples

Aird of Coigach        Aird of Coigach: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: 4 couples longways
Dance: John Bayly -- Imperial Book Volume 3, 1977.
Music: 4 x 48 bar Scottish jigs.  There's no set tune, so I've written one.

A1:Men pass your partner right shoulder, turn right, dance single file round the ladies to your own side (so the men's line is now reversed).
A2:Circle left.  Circle right — and you stay in a circle until the grand chain reaches you.
B1:Always 1st man arch, 1st lady under, with the person on their left — 2 dance steps to cross, 2 to turn away and face in:   Bottom two men arch, top two ladies under, so you cross on the diagonal to each other's places.  Middle two on each side the same.
B2:Top two men, bottom two ladies the same.  End couples the same.  [all now improper.]
C:Ends cross giving right hands into a slow grand chain (2 dance steps per hand) — the ends do four changes, the middles do three.
D:Ladies pass your opposite right shoulder, turn right, dance single file round the men to your own side (for a fleeting meeting with your partner).

I'm not pretending this is an easy dance, but it's great fun for dancers who are up for a challenge.  The B part is not difficult provided the ones are very positive in taking the hand of the person on their left and leading them forward each time.  There's actually plenty of time for the arching, so make sure that people turn away from the person whose hand they were holding once they've crossed over: not only does it fit the music better, but it means the ones are then moving in towards their next neighbour.  I think it's a pity that the grand chain slows the whole dance down, but that's the way it was written so you need to emphasise that it's two skip-change steps (or four walking steps) per hand — they should be glad of the rest!

Amazingly after all that, it's a standard progression — the ones have progressed to the bottom and the others have moved up.

Blooms of Bon Accord        Blooms of Bon Accord: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: 4 couples longways, 3 and 4 improper
Dance: John Drewry, 1971.     Music: 4 x 32 bar Scottish reels — Scott Skinner.
A1:All set in lines; right-hand star in fours (4 bars); ends (working couples) cast to middle place as the middles lead out to the nearer end.
A2:Working couples cross with partner; cast back to your own end.  Promenade in (cross-hand hold) and half promenade clockwise round the other working couple, finishing with the ones facing up in the middle of the men's side, fours facing down in the middle of the ladies' side.
B1:Reels of three up and down, working couple acting as a unit, passing the man right shoulder to start — finish facing up or down facing the other working couple.
B2:Working couples right-hand star in the middle.  Men hand partner into half figure eight through the nearer end couple.
 Progressed position is 2, 4, 1, 3.

The Scots like to start their longways dances with everyone proper, so they have one chord where everyone honours their partner and then a second chord where the threes and fours cross over.  You don't have to do this, and in fact if they dance an encore they don't switch back to proper.  They would give right hands for the partner cross in A2, which you should mention but don't need to stress.

In A2 get them to take promenade hold, and then before they move explain very clearly that they're going right shoulder round the other couple (which they won't be expecting) and tell them where they're going to finish.  Again, before they start the reels of three explain that the working couples finish facing the other working couple up and down the hall, or they'll get themselves into all sorts of unlikely configurations!  Like all John Drewry dances this one flows beautifully, so two careful walkthroughs should be enough — the third and fourth turns are identical except that you're in the other half of the set and therefore on the other side.

The Belle of Bon Accord        The Belle of Bon Accord: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: 4 couples longways.
Dance: John Drewry, 1981.     Music: 4 x 32 bar Strathspeys.
The tune is The Bonnie Lass of Bon Accord by Scott Skinner.

 Actives (ones and threes) do the same until the last two bars.
A1:Active lady half figure eight down while active man cross and cast below the next lady.  With this couple, right-hand star, finishing with the actives facing your partner up and down the set.
A2:Actives cross right shoulder into a reel of four up and down: one Strathspey step per change.
B1:Actives right-hand turn three-quarters moving down to end improper (the others move up immediately); face up, the others face down, all take inside hand with your partner and Strathspey set to these neighbours.  In these fours, circle left.
B2:Actives half figure eight up (giving right hand to start).  Actives two-hand turn, ones lead down to fourth place as threes cast up into second place.

I had to put in another Strathspey!  You need to demonstrate the Strathspey step — you can say it's a slow 1-2-3-hop but then emphasise that the hop is a push forward rather than upward.  Moves in Strathspey time often take the same number of steps as in reel or jig time, but the step seems twice as long because the tune is slower.  Make sure people don't rush it — there's lots of time for all the moves except for the turn ¾ before the setting and the final two-hand turn.  Strathspey setting involves step right, close, right again, raise left foot up to touch right leg above the calf, and the same to the left.  Watch the videos; a picture is worth a thousand words!

Corstorphine Fair        Print this danceTop of page

Format: 4 couples longways
Dance: Miss M Hunter, 1963?.     Music: 4 x 40 bar Scottish jigs — set tune by Nan Main.

A1:Circle left (slip-step).  Circle right.
A2:Cast from the top, cross over coming up at the bottom (interweaving), up the outside to your partner's place, and stay facing up.
B:Four slips across (men behind ladies); dance forward individually.  Dance backward; slip across back to the improper side.
C1:First lady cross right hand with second man; left with third lady.  Right with fourth man; all turn single right with 4 claps.
C2:First man cross left with second lady, right with third man.  Left with fourth lady; all turn single clapping.

Miss Hunter was a teacher at Corstorphine Primary School, and produced this thoroughly non-standard Scottish dance, requiring 40-bar jigs which is also somewhat non-standard.

You can't always trust the videos!  The first one is by a German display team and maybe they learnt it from Pilling — the little green book of dance diagrams which men keep in their sporrans.  I learnt it not with all the men coming up outside all the ladies but with the two lines interweaving as they come up.  And you shouldn't link elbows to come up — you should be on the side-lines and unable to touch your partner.  In the second video from New Zealand they do attempt the interweaving, but the dancers are so bad that it should act as an inspiration to you — surely you can get your group through it better than that!

You can't always trust Pilling either!  In the copy I've got (Fifth Edition, 1980) the first man starts his zigzag with the right hand, and it's the wrong one all the way down.  On the website this has now been corrected.

The set tune is copyright, but it's a standard 32-bar jig. If you have live music I recommend that it's played AAABB so that both lots of zigzags are to the same music.

Falconer Hall        Hexham Quadrille: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: 4 couples longways
Dance: Peter McBryde -- Scottish Dance Archives, 1972-1982.     Music: 4 x 48 bar jigs.
Video: To my surprise, none that I can find.

A1:Twos and threes face up: right-shoulder reels of three at the top.
A2:Ones stand still, threes stay facing down, twos cast left: right-shoulder reels of three at the bottom.
B1:At each end, right-hand star.  Set in lines; give right hand to partner and cross over.
B2:Ones and twos set (giving hands on the side); ones cast, twos lead up.  Half double figure eight (twos cast, ones cross moving up, then ones cast, twos cross moving up).
C1:Ones and threes the same.
C2:Ones and fours the same.

There's no set tune for this one so I'm suggesting Hexham Quadrille which has the required three parts.  I know Hexham isn't in Scotland, but it's pretty close!

The dance all flows beautifully, but it's hard to get people to go smoothly from one reel to the other — you need to call it really well.  Make sure that whatever they do in the reels they end back where they started — there's plenty of time in which to achieve this.  The rest should be plain sailing.  Emphasise that in B2 the twos lead up (an English lead, with inside hands joined): that will encourage them to cast when they get there rather than face their partners and look lost.  I think this is a terrific dance — there aren't any moves in it that English dancers won't be familiar with such as half diagonal reels of four, and everybody but the ones get a rest in the C section — the ones having reached the bottom then get a rest in A1 so it shouldn't kill anybody to actually dance it.

Postie's Jig        Postie's Jig: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: 4 couples longways.
Dance: Roy Clowes — Ormskirk Scottish Dances.
Music: 4 x 32-bar jigs.  Set tune: “Lassie, come dance with me” (traditional Scottish)

A1:End couples (actives) set; cast to the middle as middles move to the nearer end.  Actives half figure eight through the nearer end couple.
A2:Active men arch, active ladies under to cross with partners; actives turn corner post with nearer hand (or forearm) ¾ until the actives are facing up or down.  Bottom couple arch, cross with the top couple, turn corner ¾ until facing across to partner.
B1:All that again.
B2:Active couples half rights and lefts.  Actives [or everybody] right-hand turn partner or birl (left hands joined above right-elbow grip), or swing.

A lot of English clubs know this dance, but some people want to do a “gate” movement, where people give inside hand and the posts move backwards as the actives move forwards.  That's not the way the dance was written.  It's either a hand turn or an arm turn: right in right or left in left.  Watch the videos!  My call is: “Men arch — bottoms arch — men arch — bottoms arch”.

And if your dancers know Postie's Jig backwards, try this on them…

Double Postie's Jig        Postie's Jig: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: 4 couples longways
Dance: Roy Clowes and others.
Music: 4 x 32-bar jigs.  Set tune: “Lassie, come dance with me” (traditional Scottish)

A1:All set in lines; ¾ double figure eight (ends cast, middles cross out to start) — new ends stay facing out.
A2:Active men arch, cross with partners while the others pass through up and down (right shoulder); actives turn corner post (same sex) with nearer arm ¾ to face up or down.  Bottoms arch, cross with tops while the others pass through across (right shoulder); actives turn corner (opposite sex) ¾ to face across.
B1:All that again.
B2:Active couples half rights and lefts while the other set facing out, turn to face partner and set again.  All swing.

A Trip to Bavaria        Remmerts of Herford: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: 4 couples longways
Dance: J MacGregor-Brown -- Collins Pocket Reference Books, 1960
Music: 4 x 32-bar reels.  Set tune: “Remmerts of Herford”

A1:Middles right-hand star half-way while ends pull by right hand with partner; all pull by left hand (same sex) along the line.  Same.
A2:Same.  Same home, then ones face down, the others up.
B1:Ones and twos set; ones cross down through the twos, twos dance up the outside.  Same with the threes.
B2:Same with the fours.  Lines go forward, ones two-hand turn half-way, lines fall back.

This is the other one that many English clubs know, but they've Anglicised it!  I remember Peter Jenkins playing it for the Ealing Country Dance Club in West London and the leader, Tony Sever, complaining “You're making it sound Scottish”.  “It is Scottish”, replied Peter.  I believe that if you're teaching a Scottish dance to English dancers you should teach them to dance it the way the Scots do it.  By all means tell people that they don't have to do a skip-change step if they really can't, but don't mess with the choreography!  At English clubs the ones and the couple below them take hands with their partners for the setting in the B part; a Scottish dance teacher would say that they're supposed to be on the side lines (a concept that we don't use in English) and shouldn't be able to take hands — Scottish sets are wider than English sets.  And when the ones cross down through that couple, English dancers tend to do it with a roll-away, whereas the Scottish way is that the ones are independently moving down with a skip-change step, the lady crossing in front of her partner.

I suggest you say “pull by” rather than turn.  Of course they're supposed to look at the person, but if you say “turn” some people will finish facing out and then have to spin round for the next move.  The A figure is simply a grand chain done in a large figure eight rather than a circle — it may help some people to realise that.  Don't overshoot in the star, and make sure you finish each half star facing away from the star to look for your same-sex neighbour.  People tend to rush all this because they think it's difficult and therefore needs to be frantic — and then the set gets out of control and no-one knows what's going on!  You might try calling it to the music: “Star — 2 — 3 — 4, and left — 2 — 3 — 4” to show them how much time they've got.  You'll see people being ahead of the music in some of the videos, though nobody gets lost.

There's a really good English dance using the “Trip to Bavaria” chain: Marge Hendy's “Square Club Square”.

4 Couples, 3 working

This is the standard Scottish formation.  It's a very short triple minor set.  The ones do the dance once through with the two couples below them, and at the end of the first turn they've progressed a place.  They then repeat the figure with the two couples below them while the original twos at the top have a rest and think about becoming ones.  After the second turn of the dance the original ones cast unobtrusively to the bottom while the new ones are starting at the top.  This isn't a difficult concept, but it's one that English dancers may not be used to so you need to explain it carefully.  For instance, at the end of the first walkthrough you could say, “That's once through.  Now the ones would lead that same figure with the two couples below them.  Let's imagine we've done that — ones move down another place.  Now the original twos at the top become active, so the old ones just cast to the bottom as the new ones start…”

Make it clear that if you mention the top or bottom of the set you're talking about the current three-couple set; some people want to go through the neutral couple at the top or bottom but they don't exist!

The Devil's Elbow        Print this danceTop of page

Format: 4 couples longways, 3 working.
Dance: J Trevor Stephenson -- Scottish Dance Archives, 1972-1982.
Music: 8 x 32-bar Scottish reels — original tune by George Meikle.

A1:Ones set; right-hand turn.  Cast to second place; left-hand turn ¾.
A2:Man up, lady down: right-hand star.  Snake: Ones pass left shoulder and loop left, followed by the couple from their own star.
B1:In the same threes (man down, lady up), left-hand star.  Snake: Ones pass right shoulder and loop right, the others follow — all finish opposite partner with the ones improper in middle place.
B2:Set in lines; ones Petronella turn into lines across while the others keep setting.  Set; ones Petronella turn to second place on own side, the others keep setting.

Click to play videoI really like this dance — click the image to see people dancing it to my calling.  It flows beautifully and there's nothing in it that English dancers should find difficult — indeed the signature move also appears in Ron Coxall's well-known “The Short and the Tall”.  I had to slow people down in the stars because they were getting there too soon.  Watch the video by Tay Dancers — none of them particularly young and yet there's no frantic rush and they're at the right place at exactly the right time.  I recommend that you use the word “snake” when teaching and calling the dance (though I see that I don't in the video).  And try and persuade the twos and threes to keep setting while the ones are doing their Petronella turns, rather than just standing and waiting as they are in my video!

Duke of Perth       A classic Scottish dance.

Lady Home's Jig        Lady Home's Jig: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Hume tartanFormat: 4 couples longways, 3 working.
Dance: Miss Milligan's Miscellany of Scottish Country Dances, Volume 1, 1977.
Music: 8 x 32-bar Scottish jigs: Gow, 1799

A1:Circle left.  Circle right.
A2:Ones face partner, twos and threes face neighbour: Grand chain.
B1:Ones cross giving right hand, go below the twos (who move up), cross giving left hand, go below the threes (who stand still), lead up to middle place.
B2:Ones right-hand turn first corner, left partner.  Same with second corners.  [Very fast.]
 The second time I suggest that B2 ends with ones left-hand turn to the bottom as the threes move up, ready for the circle at the top.

Home or Hume (both pronounced “Hume”) is my clan (my grandfather was a Scot), so naturally I'm interested in a dance bearing my name.  The Hume tartan above comes from where you can buy a tie, kilt and many other items in many different tartans.

This is a busy dance, though the dancers in the video make it look easy.  B2 is particularly busy, so people need to go for it, get in close and give plenty of weight for the turns.  They may need to do forearm turns (which are traditional, by the way) rather than the RSCDS hand turns.

The Machine Without Horses        The Machine Without Horses: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: 4 couples longways, 3 working.
Dance: David Rutherford 1772.  RSCDS Book 12.
Music: 8 x 32-bar Scottish jigs.

A1:Ones set; cast to second place.  Star right with the threes.
A2:Ones set; cast back to the top.  Star left with the twos.
B1:Ones lead down the middle, twos move up the outside and follow them: down between the threes, up round them, lead up to the top, ones cast into second place as twos lead up into first place.
B2:Ones and twos, four changes of rights and lefts.

Nothing strange in this for English dancers — in fact it is an English dance, published by Rutherford in London.  The title may refer to a sedan chair, but not a motor car in 1772.

Make sure that at the start of B2 the twos move up before following the ones down, as they do in the first video, rather than just waiting for the ones to pass them, as they do in the third video.  And make sure people take their time in the rights and lefts — 2 skip-change steps or 4 walking steps per change, and that they look at people as they pass them rather than treating them as cogs in a machine.  The Scottish convention is that the left-hand person on each side finishes with a courtesy turn (which the Scots call a polite turn) rather than just a pull-by.

Mairi's Wedding        Mairi's Wedding: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: 4 couples longways, 3 working.
Dance: James Cosh — 22 Scottish Country Dances, 1959
Music: 8 x 40-bar Scottish reels.

A1:Ones right-hand turn (fast), cast to second place, left-hand turn one and a bit to face first corner — man facing down to third lady, lady facing up to second man.
B1:Half a diagonal reel of four with first corners, but at the end the ones pass right shoulder rather than the expected left shoulder, and turn a quarter right to face your second corner: man facing up to second lady, lady facing down to third man.  Same with second corners.
B2:All that again.  [1st corner and 2nd — but they've moved.] to finish facing first corners who are now back where they started the diagonal reels.
A2:Reels of three across, passing first corner left shoulder, ones finishing in second place on their own side.
B3:Circle left.  Circle right.

This is another classic Scottish dance — though I remember an occasion when we were dancing another dance with half diagonal reels and someone asked whether the ones should pass right shoulder in the half diagonal reels.  I said, “Well, they do in Mairi's Wedding” and our teacher replied severely, “Mairi's Wedding is not approved by the RSCDS”.  However it appeared in the Core Repertoire of 2008.  A lot of people spell it “Marie”, but it's not.

The dance was actually written with the ones passing left shoulder in the middle, and that's how you'll see it danced in the first two videos, but most of us think it flows much better and opens the dance out if they pass right shoulder, as you see in the third, fourth and fifth videos.

Scottish dances have lots of interaction with corners, going back to the 18th century English triple minor.  They also have quite a lot of diagonal reels, which English dancers probably aren't so familiar with.  Don't let people rush the walkthrough, and if necessary take the first man or woman's place to demonstrate how the four diagonal reels fit together.  Having done the fourth it's very tempting for the ones to pass their first corner right shoulder yet again, but that means you finish stranded outside the set rather than back in middle place, so I don't recommend it!  A lot of triple minors get the ones into middle place, where they can interact with both couples — think of Fandango or Green Sleeves and Yellow Lace.  It may help the ones to think of this as their home place.

After the ones have finished their second turn it's easy for them to cast to the bottom and the neutrals to move up while the new ones are starting with their right-hand turn.  At the end of the eighth turn it's usual for the neutral couple at the top to join in the final circle left and right.

Marigold        Marigold: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: 4 couples longways, 3 working.
Dance: James Cosh — 22 Scottish Country Dances, 1959
Music: 8 x 40-bar Scottish reels or try the “Own tune” which is a jig.

A1:Ones cross down through the twos (who move up immediately), man down lady up, round first corner, meet with a left-hand turn to finish facing first corner.
B1:(12 bars): “Marigold hey”: Ones pass first corner right shoulder, corners pass right and turn right to face second corner (same sex), pass right, second corners pass right and turn right to face ones (same sex), pass right, ones pass right and turn right to face first corners in their new place (6 bars).  All that again.
B2:All that again twice.
C:Ones with second corner right-hand turn, with first corner left-hand turn, half figure eight (man down through the threes, lady up through the twos) to finish on own side in middle place.

This is not an easy dance, and I haven't yet called it or even danced it.  The things to cling on to in the Marigold hey are that you always pass the same person going in, you always pass the same person going out, and it's always right shoulder.  James Cosh also wrote Mairi's Wedding, which has the same trick of passing right shoulder in the middle, though actually he didn't write it that way.  This time he did — it may not be what you expect, but trust him!

In the video you'll see some people setting when they're not crossing with someone in the Marigold hey.  This keeps them moving and stops them leaping into the middle too soon, but it's not in the original instructions.

One catch is that you do the whole sequence four times, but if you use a tune with 5 lots of 8-bar phrases the sequence is across the music.  Twelve changes are done in total, but that's four in each 8-bar phrase, so don't think that each phrase starts with the ones crossing with their first corner or you'll need another 8 bars of music!  That seemed odd to me, and I decided to investigate further.  There's a recording by Jim Lindsay and his Scottish Dance Band which has “Bel Fiore” as the first tune in the medley, which means “beautiful flower” in Italian, so people probably think of this as the set tune — but it isn't.  And if that's the one in the video it's played AABBB which really doesn't fit the dance.  The pocket edition of Cosh 's 22 Scottish Country Dances says Tunes — “Auprez de ma blonde”.  You can hear the song at: which says:

French folk tune 'Aupres de ma Blonde' probably originates from the 17th century: ,Louis XIV and the Franco-Dutch war… the birds are singing and she would give her imprisoned love the towers of Notre Dame to have him back.

The chorus starts: By my fair one's side, how good, how good, how good and to my great surprise the tune is the same as the English dance “I want to be near you” (usually danced by children, though I've played it for The Round in Cambridge).

It has an 8-bar A-music and a 12-bar B-music, so my initial reaction was that you couldn't possibly use it for the dance.  But then I realised that I was talking about the central figure being across the music, and that's because one iteration of the “Marigold hey” takes 6 bars rather than the standard 8.  If you took this tune and played it ABBA it would fit the dance.  But is that what the composer intended?  No-one knows, and you really couldn't finish on an A, so I've written a C-music and once I've called it I'll let you know how it works.  I doubt that a Scottish band would use my tune: they would find it too non-standard, but then so is the figure!

If you don't want the extra complexity of three couples in a four couple set, you could dance it as a three couple set and replace the half figure eight by the ones crossing and casting to the bottom.

Maxwell's Rant       Another classic Scottish dance, though it's actually English.

5 Couples

Airie Bennan        Cock of the North: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: 5 couples longways.
Dance: Hugh Foss, Glendarroch Scottish Dance Sheets.
Music: 5 x 32-bar Scottish jigs.

A1:Ones and twos, threes and fours: set in lines of two; right-hand star half-way.  Set; left-hand star half-way.
A2:Ones and threes (actives) lead down one place (inside hand); face partner and set.  Lead back; cast down a place, twos and fours move up.
B1:Actives set to first corner; right-forearm (or hand) turn.  Set to second corner; right-forearm turn.
B2:Actives left-forearm turn partner; cast another place.  Right-forearm turn 1½ (or spin/birl).

I said earlier that the standard Scottish format is for three working couples.  Here's a clever variation on that, which I've copied in my dances “Bright and Beautiful” and “The Morland Waltz”.  Two three-couple sets, each with an active couple, are glued together to form a five-couple longways set.  As in a triple minor, the actives spend most of their time in the middle place of their three-couple set, where they have couples above and below them to engage with — but the middle couple of the five-couple set (the original fours) are in both sets simultaneously, so they need to keep wide awake in B1.  At least they're given a clue when they find somebody setting to them, and in this dance they stay in one place until they move up on the second progression.  There are more complicated Scottish dances involving half diagonal reels of four where it often seems unlikely that you'll see your partner again!  If caller and dancers are up for a challenge, I recommend (in increasing level of difficulty) “Black Mountain Reel”, “Polharrow Burn” and “The Recumbent Stone”.

The Sea Caves        If I had Maggie in the Wood: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: 5 couples longways.
Dance: Jeff Green, Victoria, Australia — The Southern Stars Book, 1989.
Music: 5 x 32-bar Scottish reels.
The original tune is copyright, so I'm suggesting a similar-sounding alternative.
Video: None that I can find.

A1:Ones and threes right-hand turn; cast a place (twos and fours move up).  Cross giving left hand, go left round one person (and the middle actives pass each other left shoulder) to finish in columns of 3, 4, and 3 facing a same sex stationary person.
A2:Pass right shoulder into reels of three or four across, and at the end the actives go slightly further to finish facing out.
B1:Actives go left, dance round the outside past 3 stationary people (without overtaking anybody) to finish opposite partner improper in 2nd and 4th places.
B2:At each end, two changes of rights and lefts (with hands) while the middle couple set and cross over.  Middle three couples circle left half-way.

A clever dance which will require some good teaching.  Make sure they're all in the right place (particularly the middle two actives) facing the right person before they start the reels.  Tell them to finish the reel exactly where they started it, then the actives keep going as if they were continuing the reel and stay facing out on the side lines.  They really need to dance the chase round the outside, and some people just don't believe how far they have to go, so stress that they must pass three posts and then finish opposite their partner, ready for the rights and lefts.  Progressed position is 35421 which means that the original threes will be active again. Format: 5 couples longways.

Inchmickery        The Warehouse: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatCock of the North: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: 5 couples longways.
Dance: Roy Goldring — 14 Social Dances, 2000.
Music: 5 x 32-bar Scottish jigs.  Own tune by Neil Barron.
I can't play Neil's tune and call at the same time, so I'm also suggesting “Wi a Hundred Pipers an a'' and Cock o' the North”.

A1:Ones and twos circle left (slip).  Ones meet and cast two places; twos and threes take neighbour's hand and two side steps up.
A2:Ones go right: right-hand star with this couple.  Pass partner right shoulder: left-hand star with the other couple.
B1:Ones go right: right-hand turn the end person of the opposite line (who comes forward to meet them).  Change ends: left-hand turn.
B2:Ones meet and cast to the bottom; fours and fives take neighbour's hand and two side steps up.  At the bottom, circle right.

The ones are moving all the time; everybody else gets a share of the action.  Again, nothing here that an English dancer would find unusual.  You really need to emphasise “right” for the final circle.  I sometimes say, “Which way does the circle go?” and they all shout out “right” (and then mainly do so).


Four couples in a square dates back to Playford dances such as Newcastle and Hunsdon House.  I imagine they were later taken to France and became the Cotillions and Quadrilles which travelled all over the civilised world — see my Connections page for much more information, and Anne Daye's in-depth justification of this in The English foundations of the French Cotillon.

The Almo Rant        The Almo Rant: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: Square.
Dance: Gill Russell & R Marlow
Music: 2 x 48-bar Scottish reels.  No set tune, so I've written one which is 24 bars: play it 4 times through, no repeats.
Video: None that I can find, but see for the Schiehallion reels — they are right at the end of this (long) dance.

A1:Take inside hand with partner: set to the centre; Petronella spin to move one quarter round to the place of the couple on your right.  All that again.
B1:Head ladies chain over and back.
C1:Side ladies chain over and back.
A2:All set to corner; right-hand turn.  Set to partner; right-hand turn to finish with men facing in, ladies facing out.
B/C2:Schiehallion reels.
 Repeat the whole dance back to original place.

No-one seems to know anything about this dance, or what “Almo” means.

The Petronella needs to be done with a strong move on the right diagonal on your first step, because you've got further to go than in some dances.  (Scottish dancers may tell you that you have to use the phrase “Petronella in tandem” but you don't.)  You're now half-way round the set, and that's your home position for the rest of this turn of the dance.  Scottish uses the old form of ladies chain from the 19th century quadrilles, so it's an open left-hand turn rather than an arm round the lady's waist, and the men are moving forwards the whole time (which some of them find very difficult).  The right-hand turns in A2 are quick, just two skip-change steps for each, and the second is designed to get you into position for the really interesting final figure.

Schiehallion reels come from the dance “Schiehallion”.  The figure is not as difficult as people think, but it relies on the whole set working together as a unit — and why not?!  Here's how I explain it.

Men, you're looking at the back of your right-hand lady, and you're going to be following her all the way round the square, moving into her place as she goes somewhere else.  Ladies, you're facing out, and you're going to be following your partner, so your first move will be looping round to where he's now standing.  But you all have to work together — it's one of those moves where being early is just as bad as being late, so you need to listen to the music and dance to it.  Men, there's another man on your right: you must let him cross in front of you before you get to where you're going.  He may need a little persuading at first!  So let's try the first change.  Men, you're going to finish facing out, exactly where your right-hand lady is.  Ladies, you're going to finish facing in, exactly where your partner is.  Go!  Now we reverse the roles.  Ladies, you're moving to your right to where your partner is, but there's a lady on your right and you must let her cross in front of you.  Men, you're just looping round to where your partner is.  Go!

Each of these moves is four beats — that's four walking steps but I hope you'll be doing two skip-change steps when the music starts.  We've done a quarter of the figure and you're one place round, so another three times will get you back where you started.  Let's try it slowly, to my count — I'm just going to say who's doing the crossing part.  Men are crossing first.  “Ready — and — men — 2 — 3 — 4, ladies — 2 — 3 — 4, men — 2 — 3 — 4, ladies — 2 — 3 — 4, men — 2 — 3 — 4, ladies — 2 — 3 — 4, and ladies face in ready for the second turn of the dance.”

Then I would probably get them to dance the Schiehallion reels with the music played slower than usual, assess the situation and decide whether they need more practice before launching into the whole dance.  Once people get into the swing of it they really like it.


Apparently first published in 1983, and “Clutha” is the Gaelic name of the river Clyde, but it's virtually a quadrille.  English dancers shouldn't have any problem with it.

Eightsome Reel        Print this danceTop of page

Format: Square, numbered clockwise
Dance: RSCDS Book 2.  Traditional Scottish
Music: 40 + 8x48 + 40 bar reels.
A1:Circle 8 left (slip).  Circle right.
A2:Keep hold of partner (easier with arm round waist) and ladies put right hands in: Star promenade half-way.  Turn as a couple to put the men in with left hands and star promenade back.
B1:All set to partner twice.  Two-hand turn or birl/swing.
B2/3:Slow grand chain all the way round (two dance steps per hand) or move quicker and spin/swing at the end.
A1:First lady go into the middle and dance however she likes, while the others circle left and right around her.
B1:First lady set to partner; two-hand (or right-hand or right-arm) turn.  Same with opposite man.
B2:Those three dance a reel, lady passing partner left shoulder to start.
A2:Again the others circle left and right around first lady.
B3:Lady set and turn 4th man (on her partner's right).  Same with 2nd man.
B4:Reel with these two men — at the end the first lady comes out and the second lady (on the left of the first lady) moves in.
 Repeat the figure for each lady, then for each man.  Finish with the introduction.

That's the basic pattern, but you'll see lots of variety in the videos and the instructions I've given, even at the (official RSCDS) Dunedin Summer School where all sorts of people join in the reels and there's a fair amount of chaos — this is a week for experienced dancers and they're all good enough to cope with it and still get back to the right place.  Just remind people that Scottish sets are numbered clockwise, so the second lady is on the left of the first lady.  You always start the first lot of setting and the reel with your partner.  For the second lot it would seem more logical to me for the first lady to set to the second man and then the fourth man, but the instructions say it's the other way round.  And you can see that some people do it one way and some the other.  Here's the crucial point: It doesn't matter!  So long as the active person does it with conviction, it will work.  It's supposed to be fun, for heaven's sake.

The Elephant's Stampede        Nellie the Elephant: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: Square
Dance: Lorna McDonald & Gillian Mackintosh — Aurora 10th Anniversary Book, 2006.
Music: 4 x 48 bar jig.

A1:Circle left (slip).  Circle right.
A2:Heads lead forward, pick up corner, lines fall back.  Face corner: half reels of four across.
B1:Up and down, two changes of rights and lefts — no polite turn .  Right-hand turn the next (your shadow) 1½ into a square — this is the man's new place.
B2:Ladies Petronella turn one place to the right; take inside hand with current partner and set.  Same, to reach partner in your new place, and ladies face out.
C1/2:“Schiehallion reels”: See “Almo Rant” above for full description.

Not easy, but great fun once people have got it — and yes, the set tune really is “Nellie the Elephant”.  I know Scottish dancers are told they must always finish rights and lefts with a “polite turn” but in this case it makes more sense not to twiddle but to move straight on to the right-hand turn with the next person — that's how they do it on all the videos, and the final video is of the group who published it, so you can afford to be dogmatic!  In fact I would use the MWSD call “Square through two hands”.

Nottingham Lace        Donald MacDonald's Fancy: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: Square.
Dance: Jenny Bradley.
Music: 4 x 24 bar Scottish reels.
First Figure:
A:Grand chain half-way (one skip-change step per hand, so it's quick).  Set to partner; right-hand turn ¾.
B1:Ladies left-hand star half-way while men dance one place clockwise; right-hand turn this person half-way.  Men left-hand star half-way, ladies round one place clockwise; right-hand turn partner half-way.
B2:As B1, finishing home.
Second Figure:
A:Heads pass through (giving right hand to opposite), separate, around two (giving right hand to opposite again) to the ends of side lines (6 bars); set in lines.
B1:Lines forward and back.  With the opposite couple, circle left all the way (slip), sides break to form head lines.
B2:Lines forward and back.  All eight circle left half-way.  [Now in opposite position.]
Repeat the second figure for the sides to get you home.  Repeat the first figure.

Of course the tricky bit is the stars and turns.  You're only turning two people: your partner and your right-hand lady (left-hand man), so at the start of the walkthrough look past your partner towards someone looking at you — that's the other one you'll be doing a right-hand turn with.

The Rothesay Rant        Print this danceTop of page

Format: Square.
Dance: Anna Campbell Holden — Birmingham Book, 1973.
Music: 4 x 32 bar Scottish jigs — original tune by Beryl S Johnston.

A1:Left-hand turn partner half-way, keep hold, give right to the next (men facing in, ladies out); set right and left.  Right-hand turn half-way, give left to the next; set.
A2:New sides: Half a ladies chain.  Half rights and lefts.
B1:Heads the same.
B2:Circle left (slip).  Circle right.
 Progression is one place clockwise.  This is the revised version; the original (which you see in all the videos) started with a right-hand turn.

Round Reel of Eight  

So am I over-simplifying all this for English dancers?  Well, yes and no!  All the dances I've given here are exactly as the Scots would dance them, though they sometimes wouldn't use my terminology.  But there are other Scottish figures which I wouldn't teach except at a workshop, usually at a Folk Festival.  The Allemande, for instance, requires careful timing, and other progressive figures such as the Knot or the Rondel fool me every time.  Scottish teachers are rightly concerned with the footwork, probably starting each class with step practice.  But if you'd like to learn more, go to, click on “Branch & Group Finder” and you'll probably find a group not far from you.  In my experience they're a friendly crowd, keen to help new members enjoy their chosen dance form, and they'll be pleased that at least you're already a dancer and familiar with many of the figures.

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