Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary

Frequently Asked Questions

For convenience, we have sorted the questions into three categories on this page;

Example: Most useful question, often asked...

Can I change the playback speed of a video, to make it more comprehensible?
Yes - Slowing down a video is great for understanding complex movements and checking footwork, while speeding up a video is brilliant for recapping a dance to remind you how it goes.

  • YouTube and Vimeo have hidden this useful feature under the cogwheel button labelled "Settings" at the bottom of each video.
  • Note that this "Settings" button only appears after a video is started but sometimes stays when paused.
  • The speed may be decreased down to ¼ normal speed for YouTube (but only to ½ for Vimeo) or increased up to 2 times normal speed.
  • The "Settings" pop-up panel should close when the video is started. To remove it before the video starts, click the cogwheel button again.

Frequently Asked Questions (Basics)

Basic Questions about what Scottish Country Dancing can offer to a newcomer.

Is Scottish Country Dancing only for people of scottish heritage?
No. Scottish Country Dancing is enjoyed by people from diverse cultural backgrounds around the world. Participation is open to anyone interested in the dance form, regardless of their heritage.

What is the difference between Scottish Country Dancing and Highland Dancing?
These have much in common, notably the music and their origins, and some dances could be perceived as belonging to either category, but the differences are pronounced. Scottish Country Dancing is a social dance form, featuring groups of dancers performing progressive patterns; Highland Dancing (and the associated Ladies' Step Dancing) is primarily a solo dance style which demonstrates more complex technical footwork and athletic movements for display and competitive purposes.

Is Scottish Country Dancing the same as Ceilidh Dancing?
These have a great deal in common, not least in that the former originated as a systematization by the RSCDS and its precursor of the essentially Scottish elements of the Ceilidh Dancing of the time. Ceilidh Dancing was, and still is, the social dancing which one would encounter at a Scottish wedding or at events in the more remote locations of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. It includes Set dances, such as the Eightsome Reel, which are definitely part of the Scottish Country Dancing répertoire though most such are much less complex; social dances of other than Scottish origin are often also included.
Nowadays, the most significant differences are:

  • Ceilidh Dancing involves only simpler dances which can be learned at the event;
  • although the name may be the same as that of a Scottish Country Dance, it is quite likely that what is encountered at an event will deviate significantly from the official version;
  • it is acceptable to replace the Travelling Steps of Scottish Country Dancing by walking or skipping and Setting by hopping in time to the music;
  • there may well be Old-Tyme dances such as St Bernard's Waltz (Smith) and perhaps other popular forms on the programme.

Do I need to go with a partner to participate in Scottish Country Dancing?
Absolutely not. Even if one goes to any Scottish Country Dance event with an off-the-floor partner, it is normal to invite, or be invited by, any other dancer as one's partner for a dance. This is especially important for two Beginners who will benefit from having more experienced partners when attending a class.

Is any specific attire required for Scottish Country Dancing?
It is especially important to wear soft-soled shoes (ideally ghillies or ballet pumps though trainers are acceptable at a class); the sole must be flexible to facilitate dancing on the ball of the foot and less damaging if one should accidentally tread on another dancer's foot.
Traditional Scottish attire may be specified for a formal event. Some men prefer the freedom of the kilt, even for an informal event; otherwise, anything goes. However, it is important to remember that Scottish Country Dancing involves strongly aerobic exercise; comfortable clothing with thin layers that can be removed or replaced as necessary is appropriate for a class.

Are there health benefits or disbenefits to participating in Scottish Country Dancing?
The benefits are substantial: Scottish Country Dancing provides good aerobic exercise, promotes coordination, balance and flexibility and is mentally stimulating to the exclusion of all other thought. As a team sport, it gives pleasure to those who are learning to become more successful and also to those more experienced dancers who can help them to do so.
It is important to remember that there is potential, as in any sport, for some form of sport-related injury. Collision with another dancer should never happen but care is necessary to avoid falling if the floor is too slippery (though this should be dealt with by the organizing group). The greatest risk is damage to joints and the overstressing of muscles and ligaments in the lower limbs; to minimize the former, choose a class which meets in a hall with a joisted floor, avoiding unyielding surfaces so far as is possible; if you are especially prone to the latter, some form of personal warmup may be helpful.

How can I improve my technique and become a better Scottish Country Dancer?
Attend a class regularly (more than one per week if you can) and go to special workshops led by experienced instructors.
Practice makes perfect and much can be done outside a class; if you are a Beginner, use every opportunity to improve your Travelling Step Footwork so that you reach the stage where it comes automatically and leaves your brain free to concentrate on the Figures.
Homework on dances and Figures and any of the technical jargon used in Scottish Country Dancing will pay dividends. At a class, make a list of all the dances and of any Figure or technical term which you're uncertain about; after the class, use this site to find the explanation of anything which you didn't fully understand.

Is Scottish Country Dancing suitable for all ages and skill levels?
Yes, Scottish Country Dancing is inclusive and can be enjoyed by anyone provided s/he has sufficient mobility and awareness of Timing to perform the Figures at the correct speed. That said, it takes time to become proficient and so an event organizer should avoid inviting too much disparity in the attendees' skill level.

Are there competitions for Scottish Country Dancing?
Scottish Country Dancing is essentially a participative activity; the only element of competition is self-improvement and helping others to do so. However, the RSCDS does organize competitions for expert dancers at some events and for children more generally.

What are the basic steps of Scottish Country Dancing?
Click on the Footwork button on the navigation bar of this page for a full explanation.

Can Scottish Country Dancing be done to music other than strictly traditional?
The purpose of the music is to provide a strict tempo and phrasing for the dancers' movements. Traditional Scottish music, including modern pieces in the same style, is most suitable though other music can be adapted (see, for example, many of the videos of Ramadan-ce which use an adaptation of Mozart's "Rondo alla Turca" for the first tune).

Frequently Asked Questions (Locating Material)

Questions about finding material on this site.

While the basic elements of this Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary website are generally understood, even by those who have never read the description on the Home Page, we are occasionally asked about material which the site visitor hasn't succeeded in finding. We have also become aware that many haven't expected to find something and so haven't looked for it; these are the Un-Asked Questions which we've included here.

Why can I no longer see a video which was previously available?
We can only show what is currently available publicly; if YouTube (or Vimeo) or the video owner chooses to make it unavailable, we can no longer show it.

Why are there never more than six videos on a page?
A few dances (for example, Reel Of The 51st Division) have far too many videos for a single page and so, once the current page has 5 (plus 1 animated characters video, if available), we spill the extras onto succeeding pages and provide a clear link at the bottom of the page.

Can I change the playback speed of a video, to make it more comprehensible?
Yes but, unhelpfully, YouTube and Vimeo have hidden this useful feature under the cogwheel button labelled "Settings" at the bottom of each video.

  • Note that this "Settings" button only appears after a video is started but sometimes stays when paused.
  • The speed may be decreased down to ¼ normal speed for YouTube (but only to ½ for Vimeo) or increased up to 2 times normal speed.
  • The "Settings" pop-up panel should close when the video is started. To remove it before the video starts, click the cogwheel button again.

Why can I not find a video for a dance?
The most likely reason is that no-one has recorded one (or has but hasn't made it available publicly via YouTube or Vimeo) though there is also a small possibility that one exists but we haven't discovered it yet.

Why can I not find a crib diagram for a dance?
Our source is Keith Rose's own Pilling-style diagrams plus a few which he approves from another compiler; the most likely explanation is that neither has created one for the dance.

Why can I not find instructions for a dance?
Our primary source is MiniCrib, supplemented by our own MaxiCrib and, occasionally, by either a deviser's own instructions or a crib approved by him/her which s/he has permitted us to republish; the most likely explanation is that nothing has been created and made publicly available for the dance.

Why can I not find any information about a dance?
The first possibility is that you are using an incorrect spelling. For example, if you're looking for Mairi's Wedding but think that her name is spelt Mhairi, you won't find it indexed.
The second is coverage; there are over 21,000 dances identified by name and deviser in the current database of Napier's Index but, of these, there are only about 8000 with dance instructions which are available in the public domain and fewer with a crib diagram or videos.

Could you provide a list of dances for 5 Persons?
We already do. The navigation bar button, Alternative Dance Selections, links to lists of dances with the rarer formats; the last of these (Dances for Small Numbers of Dancers) includes what you ask for and a great deal more.

Can you supply sheet music?
Exceptionally, a composer may give us permission as, for example, has Alex Ross for his main tune for Modestine's Romp. However, in general the answer is "No" for two reasons: firstly, we don't have a tame musician in our team; and, secondly, copyright of music is an even greater minefield for the unwary than is that of text.

Can you help me to find a supplier of...?
Sorry, "No". Aside from footwear, which is of especial importance, this site does not attempt to cover the sourcing of any attire.

Frequently Asked Questions (Additions and Corrections)

Questions about procedures for adding material to this site.

How do I correct an error on the site?
Get our e-mail address (click on the "Contact" button on the Home Page) and send us a clear explanation of what appears to be wrong (or unclear or misleading or contentious or whatever), however trivial; we will then make whatever correction is necessary.

How do I get a dance video onto the site?
We can only use videos which have already been uploaded (with public availability) to YouTube or Vimeo by the video owner. Simply send the video id (11-characters for YouTube, 9 digits for Vimeo) or the URL for the video page to us and we will embed the video in the existing page or a new page if this is the first for the dance.

How do I get dance instructions onto the site?
Most of our Dance Instructions are MiniCribs which we prefer because that gives our users a self-consistent format; contact the MiniCrib team to follow this route but do be aware that, like us, they are a few volunteers with very limited resources which they have to prioritize. We also have a much smaller number of our own more detailed MaxiCribs but these are primarily for our local needs and sometimes to provide an example dance to illustrate a Dance Term for which we have a page.

We can include a deviser's original instructions or a crib approved by him/her. For this, send an e-mail message to us with:

  • the text in a format which we can use (text in an MS Word document, a .pdf from text generated by any word processor or even text in the e-mail message but not any image format, even if embedded in one of the above; and
  • the deviser's permission for us to republish his/her material.

How do I add dance information to the site?
Simply send whatever text or images you have to us. We need the permission to publish these from the copyright owner; for images of persons, we need assurance that none objects to publication.

How do I get a Pilling-style dance crib diagram onto the Site?
You will need to ask Keith Rose to prepare one for you; again, his resources are limited and so he may not be able to accede. If you don't have his e-mail address, I could forward your request.

Back to the top of this 'Frequently Asked Questions' page