A few Scottish Country Dancing Figures Start from, and Finish in, standard Places with the Dancers Facing In: Set Facing Partners, 4 hands across And back, 4 or 6 Hands round and back and Rights and lefts (provided this Finishes with the familiar Polite turn) are typical examples in a Longwise set. These require no special attention when one succeeds another.
However, many Figures do require modification. One of the simplest is Cross followed by Cast in a Longwise set where the modifications have become so familiar that they are taken for granted in the composite name, Cross and cast. In this combination of the basic Figures, Cross must here be modified to Finish Facing Out and Cast must be modified to omit the initial Turn on the spot which would be required for Casting from a Standing Place, Facing In. When combined in this way, these two Figures make a satisfyingly elegant composite Figure.
Favourable Juxtapositions of Figures
Some Figures are particularly adaptable in the way they Finish and so are especially useful as a precursor to those Figures which have more prescriptive Starting Positions and Facing Directions. Setting can be modified by Turning on the spot to enable the Dancer to Finish Facing in the desired Direction and also by a small amount of Travelling to Finish in the desired Position; both of these adaptations are used to modify the basic Setting Figure in Crown triangles, Double triangles, Hello-goodbye setting and Petronella movements. Turning is particularly adaptable by the amount of the Turn and the Finishing Direction. In many dances with the 3-couple, Longwise, Active set format, the Dancing couple, in 2nd place, Turn by the appropriate amount to Finish in the Side lines or between the Top or Bottom couples or on the Centre line or, indeed, anywhere within the Corners' square and Facing in any Direction, either together or individually; for example, in bars 5-8 of The Flight of the Falcon, the instruction, "1st Couple Turn by the left to Finish 1st Man Facing First corner with 1st Lady following", prepares the Dancers for the Tandem Diagonal reel of three (with the lead alternating at each Corner) which is to follow immediately.
Combinations of Figures which work well together include all of those which have a clockwise rotational movement, i.e., Cast (clockwise), Chase (clockwise), Hands round to the left, Right hands across and Set and link for two as well as Turn by the right. In bars 1-16, The Galloping Carousel has good examples of Right hands across followed by Chase halfway. In a dance which would already have been rated very highly for Flow of the dance, especially in the last 8 bars, the Houston RSCDS Demo team in their Blooms of Bon Accord - YouTube Scottish Country Dancing Instruction Video has actually improved it by changing the first 8 bars to Set and link for two followed by Right hands across.
Similarly, all of those which have an anticlockwise rotational movement, i.e., Cast (anticlockwise), Chase (anticlockwise), Hands round to the right and Left hands across as well as Turn by the left also work well together. Bars 1-4 of Drumelzier have the elegant combination of the clockwise Turn by the right halfway followed by Right hands across halfway; bars 5-8 have the anticlockwise combination, Turn by the left halfway followed by Left hands across halfway.
Pairs of Figures with some element of reflection, such as Mirror reels of four On the sides and Figures of eight across fit well together as do Reels of three On the sides and Across; the four successive Half reels of three in bars 9-24 of Tambourine Reel are a delight.
Figures with a Prescriptive Beginning
Allemande, Highland schottische poussette, Ladies' chain, Poussette, Promenade round, Schiehallion reels, Strathspey half poussette and The targe are examples of Figures which require more than one Couple to Start in specific Positions and to be Facing in specific Directions; no Time is allocated to allow them to reach those Starting Positions from standard Places in The set. These Figures should always follow a Figure which leaves the Dancers positioned and Facing correctly; Turn is especially valuable as the precursor Figure.
In many older dances, such as Lady Catherine Bruce's Reel and Mid Lothian, Allemande and Poussette, which need the Couples to be on the Centre line, are preceded by Dancing couple Lead down and up; this works well enough for the Dancing couple but they do impede the 2nd couple who have to Dance In Below them, ideally on the last 2 bars of the Lead up. In other dances, such as Admiral Nelson, Dancing in the Street and Woo'd and Married and A', Allemande, Poussette and Promenade round are preceded by 6 Hands round and back; again, this works tolerably for the Dancing couple and for the 3rd Couple but it does present great difficulty for the 2nd Couple who are being strongly impelled Outwards at the very instant that they have to Dance Inwards to Take hands on the Centre line. Allemande, Poussette and Promenade round are difficult enough to perform neatly, especially for Beginners, even in perfect conditions; these unfortunate juxtapositions exacerbate the problem.
Ladies' chain, and Half ladies' chain even more so, require the Dancers to move quickly and so it is essential that the Ladies are Facing In and, ideally, the Men Out at the Finish of the preceding Figure. In bars 7-8 of Rothesay Rant, 1st and 3rd Men are Facing In and 1st and 3rd Ladies are Facing Out, i.e., in exactly the opposite Direction to that required on bar 9. This can be remedied by releasing Hands early during the Balance in line and then Turning on the spot during bar 8 but the inexperienced find this difficult. The revised version, in which the Dancers Turn by the left halfway on bars 1-2 and Turn by the right halfway on bars 5-6, is often favoured as an alternative.
Other Unfortunate Juxtapositions of Figures
Apart from the many instances with prescriptive Figures preceded by Dancing couple Lead down and up, there is one instance in which this Figure itself is uncomfortably preceded by Lead up to Places. This occurs on bar 16 of The Wild Geese following two, very quick, 8-bar sequences which would much more naturally leave the 1st couple Facing Out. The Flow of the dance would be much improved if the instructions were changed for bars 5-8 to:
"1st couple Turn by the right ¾ and Lead down to 3rd place WHILE 3rd couple Turn by the right halfway and Cast up to the Top"
and similarly for bars 13-16 so that 1st couple Finish Facing In. This and some other changes to improve the Flow of the dance are implemented in a revised version The Wild Geese Tamed.
Another unfavourable sequence found quite commonly in the older dances, but also in some modern ones, is Advance and retire followed by Hands round and back. Hands round and back requires a small Advance (albeit Diagonally on a spiral path and, in Quick tempo dances, using Slip step) in order to be able to Take hands in the circle but, immediately before that, all are Retiring; the simple solution is to reduce the Retire so that the Dancers don't return to their Places in the Sidelines.
Dances with Favourable Sequences of Figures
It is fortunate that the unfavourable sequences identified above rarely occur in more modern dances and, indeed, blessedly do not always occur in the older ones. To counterbalance those negatives, the following are examples in which the Flow of the dance is especially satisfying.
The anonymous deviser of Muirland Willie neatly avoided the problem of having Poussette follow immediately after Dancing couple Lead up in bars 17-20 by inserting 2 bars of Setting and 2 bars of Set advancing; this makes a particularly elegant transition.
James B. Cosh originally specified that the Dancing couple should Pass Giving left shoulders between the successive Half diagonal reels of four in bars 9-24 of Mairi's Wedding. However, in what is now widely known as Mairi's wedding reels, the Dancing couple Pass Giving right shoulders between the successive Half diagonal reels of four; this does improve the Flow of the dance in the original and also in those many others where it is actually prescribed by the devisers, notably Polharrow Burn and The Kelpie of Loch Coruisk.
Allemande for 3 couples is impossible to perform neatly, even in a Strathspey, unless the Dancers Start the Figure in the correct Positions, i.e., with the Couples one-behind-the-other on the Centre line, all Facing Up in Promenade hold, ready to Take Allemande hold; following the 6-bar Promenade reel of three, John Drewry uses bars 23-24 of The Byron Strathspey to Position them perfectly.
Flow of the dance is exceptionally good in some dances to the extent that the individual Figures of the Repeat seem to merge into a unified whole. A few examples are:
Jennifer's Jig, especially for the 2nd Couple;
Lady Sophia Lindsay;
Flying Spur; and
Wind on Loch Fyne