Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary

Fitting The Steps To The Music

This page covers Fitting the steps to the music for the basic seven steps, Slip step, Skip change, Pas-de-basque, Step up or down, the Strathspey travelling step, the Strathspey setting step and the Highland schottische setting step, which are sufficient for the vast majority of Scottish Country Dances. It is written from the point of view of a dancer with limited musical knowledge for the benefit of those with no greater knowledge. Note that the detail of Fitting the steps to the music for those Other steps which belong to the Highland and the Ladies' Step Dancing traditions is not covered.

These seven steps are defined with either two or four separate movements to be fitted to each bar of music: Slip step and Step up or down require two movements; all others require four.

Reels, Hornpipes and Strathspeys are mostly in 44 tempo (though some are in 24 tempo with the same number of bars rather than crochets to the minute) and Jigs are in 68 tempo (apart from those in 98 tempo which are suitable only for a dance such as Strip the Willow requiring three equal movements to the bar). All are readily divided into two, equal, half bars (Jigs especially so) and so Step up or down, in all tempi, and Slip step, in all tempi except Strathspey, of course, are easily accommodated.

The music for Reels, Hornpipes and Strathspeys is also readily divided into four, equal, quarter bars and so Skip change, Pas-de-basque, the Strathspey travelling step, the Strathspey setting step and the Highland schottische setting step are equally easily accommodated.

The music for Jigs is less helpful; the 3 quaver, half bars do not readily accommodate two equal movements. The musically informed tell us that the first and third movements of Skip change and Pas-de-basque in a Jig are to be allocated two quavers each with the second and fourth having only one each; perhaps, as dancers, we intuitively Phrase the movements within the bar this way. Whether we actually do divide the Jig tempo bar into 13+16+13+16 or 4×14 matters very little; indeed, many competent dancers will admit that they cannot distinguish the musical time signatures of Reels and Jigs. The crucially important point is to begin each dance step at the beginning of the bar.


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