Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary

The Influence of Covid-19 on Scottish Country Dancing

This website is primarily concerned with the more permanent aspects of Scottish Country Dancing, aiming to answer questions such as "How?" and "What?" and occasionally "Why?"; ephemeral matters, answering questions such as "When?", "Where?" and "Who?" are normally covered by the RSCDS, RSCDS Branches, Affiliated and other local groups and some regional associations. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has cast such a cloud over all social activities that it cannot be ignored. Like all participative sporting activities, Scottish Country Dancing has been especially hard hit. This page aims to identify ways in which Scottish Country Dancers can put enforced idleness and/or isolation to good use.

The Scottish Country Dancer who lives alone is worst affected by lockdown, losing:

  • the social aspects of the classes and events normally attended;
  • enjoyment of the music;
  • a pleasurable form of regular physical exercise;
  • the intellectual stimulus of coping with a complex dance along with the deserved gratification associated with either personal achievement or helping a less-experienced Partner to succeed.

Households with a few dancers can engage in actual dances though for some small odd numbers there may be only a handful as is shown in Dances for Small Numbers; this is especially severe for the solitary dancer for whom nothing existed before 2020. The following suggestions are intended primarily for him/her but not exclusively so, of course.

Social Aspects

By its very nature, this site cannot directly provide a service. However, using any means at their disposal, isolated dancers can readily refer to any material on this site in their communications. More directly, the RSCDS and local Branches and groups can circulate frequent newsletters to their membership and even organize online classes though it is difficult to make the teacher/student relationship as interactive as it would be in a traditional class.


We do not carry Scottish Country Dance music directly on this site but all videos of dances (see Scottish Dances YouTube Videos), except those with animations, and all of songs (see Poems and songs) provide a very wide range. On a more temporary basis, each edition of Dance Scottish At Home, the weekly RSCDS newsletter sent out as an e-mail to members, has included a link to an excellent music podcast created by the RSCDS Music Director, Ian Muir (of the Craigellachie Band, not Prestwick), initially, and his successor, Luke Brady, subsequently.

Physical Exercise

Scottish Country Dancing is excellent aerobic exercise. Those of us who dance regularly take it for granted; every encounter with a younger, fit newcomer, surprised to be breathless after one dance, is a reminder to us of its importance to our well-being. The dancer who performed for the video of The Lonesome Reel was horrified at his loss of mobility and posture after four months of layoff.

Lockdown restrictions do allow walking for exercise. The Scottish Country Dancer can get extra benefit by dancing Skip change instead, interspersed with other steps if wished. The exercise provides an opportunity to check one's Footwork, to make a conscious effort to remedy any lapses and to concentrate on improving the finer points. For those who find themselves denied other regular forms of exercise, it can be beneficial to replace walking at every opportunity indoors, too.

Honing the Skills

We have all become accustomed to being "spoon-fed" by our teachers in regular classes but the isolated dancer has to teach him/herself; there is ample material in written, diagrammatic and video form on this site to cover anything needed. Of course, s/he will not have the benefit of a teacher to identify and correct mistakes and so will have to rely on self-awareness, perhaps supported by the judicious use of a mirror or some form of video recorder. It is harder work but, with persistence, the learning can be much more effective.


Once one knows what should be done, improving Footwork is essentially an individual activity and so is eminently practicable for the isolated dancer; then practice makes perfect, or as nearly so as the more fallible of us can achieve. How often has a teacher told us to practise at home so that our Footwork becomes automatic, allowing the cerebral parts of the brain to cope with Figures and Phrasing? And did we? Nowadays we don't even have to remember what was taught in a class; the Internet provides.

There can be no "one size fits all" approach to improving Footwork; everyone starts from his/her individual skill level and we all have limitations in what can practically be achieved. Those who are sufficiently self-aware over any deficiency can simply concentrate on whatever that may be by going direct to the detailed page covering the topic; however, that does not cover what Donald Rumsfeld called "unknown unknowns". We recommend starting at the Footwork page and then read (or, if it's all familiar, skim) through it and through the pages (sometimes to two levels) linked to it at the bottom of the page, noting those points requiring practical study.

Some will already be very competent in the seven basic steps of Scottish Country Dancing and some will know that they could not improve on the proficiency they have already achieved in these; they may like to consider some of the rarer steps, mainly from the Highland and Ladies' Step dancing rĂ©pertoire, which are specified in dances such as Angus MacLeod and Schiehallion, both of which occasionally appear on dance programmes. Although we do not provide written instructions or diagrams for these Other steps, the page does link to tutorial videos.


For the solitary Dancer, the feasibility of practising any Figure depends on the extent of the involvement of Supporting dancers, such as a Partner or a Corner.

  1. A few Figures, such as Petronella turn, can be performed with no-one else involved.
  2. Some, such as Figure of 8 on the side, require Supporting dancers to be stationary and inactive.
  3. Others, such as Set to first corner, require the Supporting dancer to be stationary (i.e., not Travelling) but responsive (Setting On the spot in this instance).
  4. Many, such as Reels of 3 or more, require the Supporting dancers to be Travelling.
  5. Many, such as Cross down, require light physical contact.
  6. Others, such as Turn corner, partner, corner, partner, require strong physical contact.
  7. In some, such as La baratte, secure physical contact is critical to the performance.

The solitary Dancer can successfully practise all of those in the first two categories, most of those in category 3 and some in categories 4 and 5 but none in categories 6 or 7. In many cases it will be helpful to have stickers on the floor to identify the Starting places of the Supporting dancers. In those where the Dancer does not need to pass through any of those Positions, a chair, a standard lamp or some other piece of furniture can give substance to the ghost Dancer; it may even be possible to simulate a hand for a Hold. Where the Figure involves Travelling with his/her Partner, the Dancer must Take hands with a ghost.

The following is a selection of Figures which s/he could consider, along with notes on special points; where a Figure has different, non-trivial movements from different Starting Positions, as in Set and link for 3 couples, rather than repetition of the same movement from a new Position, as in Schiehallion reels, practise from each different Position. All will have some value though in some cases it will only be marginal; some Figures (including those listed under Complex Figures) which have been excluded by reason of extensive interaction with the other Dancers may actually be worthy of inclusion. As with Footwork, there is no "one size fits all" approach; choose what to pursue based on your knowledge of your own strengths and weaknesses. Again, don't ignore the "unknown unknowns"; read or skim through all the relevant pages for whichever Figures (including Complex Figures) warrant attention, just in case.

Chasing; the Phrasing and rectilinearity of the path in a Longwise set often warrants attention.
Figure of 8 on the side.
Figure of 8 across.
Setting On the spot and with rotation.
Quarter petronella; Travel on the first beat of the first right foot Pas-de-basque and rotate on the left foot Step; with the Strathspey setting step, Travelling and rotation can be on the first and third beats of the Step.
Balance-in-line; concentrate on Eye contact with the appropriate ghost.
Double triangles; concentrate on straight arms for the St Andrew's Cross pattern.
Crown triangles.
Hello-goodbye setting; Travel on the first beat of the left foot Pas-de-basque and rotate on the succeeding beats; with the Strathspey setting step, minimize the movement in the right foot Step and use first and third beats of the left foot Step for rotation.
The Spoke; Take hands with a ghost Partner and a ghost First corner to Face clockwise and Set, Pas-de-basque on the right foot, release hands with First corner and then, somewhat counter-intuitively, Travel on the first beat of the left foot Step to Take hands with a ghost Second corner.
Allemande; Take hands, Facing Up on the Centre line in Allemande hold with a ghost Partner, and work on accurate Phrasing.
The Knot; work on accurate Phrasing with a ghost Partner.
Poussette; Take Both hands in a firm Hold on the Centre line, Facing a ghost Partner, and work on accurate Phrasing.
Strathspey Poussette; work on accurate Phrasing with a ghost Partner.
Highland schottische poussette; Take Both hands in an Open hold, Facing Up and down on the Centre line with a ghost Partner, and work on accurate Phrasing.
Schiehallion reels; work on accurate Phrasing (two bars to Cross to Second corner position and a large enough loop when Casting to Partner's Place).
The Axum reel; work on accurate Phrasing (two bars to each station and preferably Starting from a Corner position).
The Muxa reel; work on accurate Phrasing (two bars to each station and preferably Starting from a Corner position).
Courage reels; work on accurate Phrasing (two bars to each station and preferably Starting from a Corner position).
Flirt and cast; concentrate on Timing (Wait for exactly two bars before Casting) when dancing as 1st man/2nd lady.
The Saltire; work on accurate Phrasing (two bars to each station and preferably Starting from a Corner position).
The Smoke/Snake; work on the rectilinearity of the Figure.
Set and link for 2 couples; work on accurate Phrasing with a ghost Supporting dancer on bar 1.
Set and link for 3 couples; work on accurate Phrasing with ghost Supporting dancers on bar 1.
Set and rotate; work on accurate Phrasing with a ghost Supporting dancer on bar 1 and ghost Partner on bars 5-6.

The list is ordered by a combination of familiarity and effectiveness for a solitary dancer. For lack of time and lack of guinea pigs with varying experience, the suggestions have not been tested; if you find that any Figure doesn't work, or even works unexpectedly well, please let us know (see the Contact button on the side navigation bar).

Theoretical Stuff

If you have either no convenient space or no need to practice even the more obscure Figures, there is other material on this which site may offer relief from any boredom associated with "confinement to barracks".

No-one can be familiar with every dance in the répertoire; browse around the Dance Instructions and videos to find something which takes your fancy.

Some of us rate crib diagrams much more highly than either written instructions or videos. You may have previously concluded that they are not for you but isolation might be an opportunity to try to get to grips with them. Symbols Used in Keith Rose's Crib Diagrams provides a formal description of the symbols and their usage, along with a link to a much easier introduction. The teacher, Zsolt Molnar, used The RSCDS Dance Scottish at Home Online Class of 24 February 2021 as a tutorial introduction to Keith Rose's Crib Diagrams.

If you have exhausted everything above and still have time to spare, consider helping to improve this site for the benefit of the SCD community at large. Browse anywhere and, if you encounter anything which you believe is wrong or unclear or difficult to find, let us know (see the Contact button on the side navigation bar).

Some Amusement

As light relief from all the serious homework listed above, look at some of the links from the SCD Miscellany button on the side navigation bar, especially those in the last two blocks.