Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary


Scottish Country Dancing should be danced at an even tempo as far as is possible but this rule is not inviolate; Phrasing is the subtle variation of the tempo of the dance to suit the Timing allocated for a particular Figure in the context of a dance sequence. Dancers should always anticipate the approaching end of a musical Phrase by adjusting the tempo of the end of the current Figure so as to Finish in the correct Position at the correct Time; arriving early and so having to stop and restart looks ugly; arriving fractionally late is often better than being on Time because one does not have to accelerate from a stationary Position at the beginning of the next Figure.

There should not be any deviation from strict tempo of the music within a Repeat of a dance and so, if more or less ground has to be covered than is normal in a particular Figure, this can only be achieved by taking larger or smaller steps or, if the Figure allows, by following a more open or a tighter path. Most experienced dancers do this intuitively though there are pitfalls even for them. A good teacher will count the bars whenever a variation of tempo is required either within a Figure or between Figures; the Beginner is advised to count the bars (but not aloud) until correct Phrasing becomes second nature.

The following are examples of individual Figures and combinations of Figures where the tempo may need care:

In Right and lefts for adjacent Couples in a Longwise set (see Diagram 33), when Crossing Up and down on the Sides there is about half as far to Travel as when Crossing Across The set and so the dancers must take steps of only half the size; it is not acceptable in this Figure to attempt to dance at an even tempo.

Right and lefts diagonally (see Diagram 35) requires a larger variation because the Diagonal path is even longer than the width of The set but note that Right and lefts performed by dancers starting in the Corner positions is at an even tempo because the width of The set is usually twice the spacing of dancers on the Side lines.

Right and lefts for three couples (see Diagram 34) provides an even more extreme example: when Crossing Up and down Diagonally, between 1st Lady's and 3rd Man's Positions, there is almost half as far again to Travel as when Crossing Across The set, and so the dancers must take very much bigger steps on these movements; it is a common failing not to recognize the extreme changes in tempo required in this Figure, with the thoughtless dancer often intuitively taking 4 bars for the Crossing Up and down Diagonally.

Chasing from Starting Places in the Corner positions of a Longwise set (see Diagram 36) is at an even tempo just as is Right and lefts from these Positions; however, the rarer form of Chasing for adjacent Couples does require variation of tempo.

In those Figures of eight Across in which the dancers paths Cross (see Diagram 38), the Diagonal paths are curved and so are longer than normally because the Man must give Precedence to the Lady; she can help by starting the Crossing Down or Crossing Up movement quickly. The tempo variation is even more marked in those forms of Double figures of eight across in which the dancers start in adjacent Places.

In those Figures of eight on the sides which are performed around stationary dancers in adjacent Places, the paths are not symmetrical Up and down; in the examples in Diagram 39 and Diagram 40, the 1st Couple have the choice either of Travelling the whole path at an even tempo or of reaching 2nd Place in 2 bars at a slower tempo, speeding up until they reach 2nd Place again and then revert to the slower tempo; either is acceptable but Covering ensures that both dancers do the same.

Sometimes, especially in Reels, one or some of the dancers must move especially quickly at the beginning so as to set up an even tempo for the remainder of the Figure; for example, the Reels of four in MacDonald of the Isles require very quick steps by the Dancing couple (2nd Couple) on bar 1 so that they Pass By the left before the Corners can move too far.

In Reels, the even tempo of the Figure in a particular context may naturally take one or more dancers beyond the desired Finishing Position. For example, in bars 9-16 of MacDonald of the Isles, the Reels of four at even tempo would allow the Dancing couple (2nd Couple) to reach the Centre line; they can best Finish in the Side lines by Dancing a larger loop than normal around Partner's First corner positions in bars 15-16.

The simple combination of Turn by the right (bars 1-2), Cast (bars 3-4) and Turn by the left (bars 5-8) of Duke of Perth and many other dances are often mistakenly treated as a though the tempo should be even throughout whereas the first is a Quick turn for which the dancers should use a Quick turn grip and the second is a Slow turn for which the dancers should use an Open turn Grip.

In some older dances, the Time allocated for a succession of Leading and Casting Figures may be less than one would expect from a sum of the components, for example in bars 17-24 of The Machine without Horses, and so the dancers must Phrase the individual Figures unconventionally; Covering, and Taking hands whenever practicable, helps to avoid untidiness.

Links To Pages Related To 'Phrasing'


Back to the top of this Scottish Country Dancing 'Phrasing' page