Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary

Advice On Preparing Scottish Country Dancing
YouTube Videos

Many of the visitors to this Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary site find that the YouTube videos of Scottish dances are especially valuable in understanding how the dances should be performed. Sadly, they are often disappointed because even the best available video for a particular dance may prove to be much less effective educationally than it could be. There are potentially many reasons for this:
  • The video may have been recorded at an event, such as a Ball or a Dancing Display, where the operator had no control over the performers or the lighting and may have had little option over the camera position.
  • The objective may simply have been to record an event for entertainment rather than for an educational purpose.
  • The operator may just have been inexperienced.

Visitors will also be disappointed by the quite limited coverage of dances, still less than half of those for which we have written instructions; they may also be slightly irritated that there are many videos for some dances, such as The Dream Catcher, while many other popular dances are unrepresented. A list of dances in this latter category (popular in southern England, if not worldwide) is appended in the hope that video preparers will take the hint and reduce the list rather than add to the former category.

These recommendations are intended to help preparers of video recordings of Scottish Country Dances to produce results which will be the most useful educationally.

Control of the Event

If the purpose of the event is specifically to produce a video, then the operator can do whatever is necessary within the time available to produce an effective result. In particular, s/he can:
  • Make a separate recording of each individual dance, even if that means several very short videos, rather than record a succession of dances on one video; this is particularly helpful to the inexperienced dancer seeking a specific dance.
  • Choose experienced and competent Dancers.
  • Make the individual Dancers readily identifiable, matching Partners and differentiating the Dancers' Starting Positions; putting a number on each one is highly effective for the first Repeat but becomes confusing when more than one Repeat is performed. Strongly distinctive tartans for the Men and a sash in her Partner's tartan for each Lady is an elegant option; matching shirts and blouses in distinctive colours may be more practical. Where a female dances as a Man, she should not wear the same clothing as the Ladies.
  • Check the recording and repeat it if necessary in order to iron out any defects.

More commonly, the video will merely be a by-product of the event. If so, the operator should seek the support of the event organizer and take advice on how best to work together to produce an effective result. In particular, it is essential to make any band and any display team aware of the intention to make the video available on YouTube and to obtain their permission to do so under Performing Rights legislation. Note that this permission may be withheld until after the performance and after a viewing of the recording by the parties involved.

How Much to Record

Ideally, this should be the whole dance, preferably including the introduction and the final chord though this will be unachievable for a dance in a display medley. The minimum is one complete Repeat and, in a Longwise set, preferably starting from the Top Place.

Camera Positioning and Operation

For an educational purpose, the camera should be fixed in position and landscape view is almost always preferable to portrait. The field of view should cover the whole of The set and that area Outside The set through which the Dancers Travel but, ideally, no more than this so that the individual Dancers are more easily seen on the small screen. The camera should not be panned, tilted or zoomed in or out during the recording of a Scottish Country Dance.

It is important to recognize that it is the viewer who will want to be able to choose which part of the dance to look at. One may be more interested in the Dancing Man, another in the Dancing Lady, another in a Corner and so on; the camera operator should not assume that any part of the dance, even those Dancers Standing out awaiting the next Repeat, will not be important to some viewer.

The optimum position of the camera is above The set, looking down so that not more than half of any Dancer is obscured by a nearer one when The set is Made up ready to begin. A balcony or gallery is particularly useful, especially if it is not accessible to the casual onlooker who might accidentally interfere with the recording. The Direction of view doesn't matter too much so long as it is clear which is the Top of The set. The author prefers the view looking Up The set rather than the teacher's view looking Down and the overall appearance can be more realistic if slightly diagonally from either the Men's or the Ladies' Side.


One of the commonest failings in video recording is to include a light source or a strong reflection or a brightly illuminated area in the field of view. While the iris of the eye adapts to the small area of immediate interest, ignoring any more peripheral brightness, the camera has to accommodate the whole field of view at a single aperture, automatically attempting to strike a balance between the brighter and darker areas. The outcome is often silhouettes dancing in the gloom. Ideally, the main light sources and bright areas should be well outside the field of view, either to the side of or above or behind the camera and it may be necessary to take steps to eliminate strong reflections.

Where the operator does not have complete control, s/he may have to tolerate a poorer camera position in order to achieve acceptable lighting.

Sound Recording

Just as it is important not to have the camera view obstructed by the casual onlooker, so also is it important not to have interference with the music. While the ear and brain can quite successfully concentrate on what is wanted when in the live environment, the recorded sound in a different environment is less easily differentiated. Any microphone should be placed as far as is practical from extraneous noise and, if directional, should be pointed toward the band or other music source. Ideally, the sound should be taken electronically from the music source though achieving this may constrain the camera position too much.

Submitting the Video

When uploading the video to YouTube, don't tick the box which would prevent our "embedding" the video; where this is ticked, we simply can't include it on this Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary website! Also, avoid ticking the box which allows advertisements to appear during the playing of your video; these are likely to make it almost useless from an educational point of view.

It is important to include as much detail as possible about the performance, including certain key words which will facilitate searching, in the associated text:

  • The words "Scottish Country Dance/Dancing".
  • The event with date.
  • The dancers.
  • The musicians.
  • The names of the dances in the order in which they are performed.
  • The names of the tunes used.
  • Any known deviation of the performance of an individual dance from the formal description.
  • Acknowledgement of the dancers, the musicians and anyone who helped to make the video possible.
  • Your own name (or a pseudonym), preferably always exactly the same, so that anyone following your material can easily identify something new.

If any text is superimposed on the video itself, make sure that it has disappeared before the dance starts or only appears after the dance has finished.

Popular Dances for which no YouTube Video Is Publicly Available

Popularity here means in the south of England though, no doubt, there are many dances locally popular elsewhere which should be included. This list links to the Dance Instructions for each dance; note that a dance on the list may have a video with animated characters but nothing with real dancers.

Black Angus
Clutha Mhòr
Dandie Dinmont
Ennismore Strathspey
Gillian's Strathspey
Honeysuckle And The Bindweed (Bradley)
MacFarlane's Lantern
Patron Saint

And from earlier RSCDS Books...
Connie's Jig
Simon's Dance

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