Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary

Footwork

The vast majority of Scottish Country Dances can be performed using the 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, all of which are described in the linked pages. Other steps which belong to the Highland and the Ladies' Step Dancing traditions but which appear in a few Scottish Country Dances are mentioned but not described.

The objective of this footwork section is to define the uses of the steps and to remind the dancer of the details of the steps. There is no satisfactory alternative to learning the steps from a good teacher. Beware of following another dancer's bad example! Very few dancers, even among the most experienced, have truly good Footwork.

Ideally, every class should start with step practice though this is often omitted because so many dancers prefer to learn the Figures of a new dance rather than to improve their Footwork; indeed, many of us have become so accustomed to performing the steps inaccurately that we may no longer be capable of undoing the damage. Fortunately, for the successful performance of almost any Scottish Country Dance, accuracy in the Figures and in Timing are much more important than perfect Footwork.

To be successful, the Scottish Country Dancer needs to concentrate on the Figures and so must be able to perform the appropriate steps without thinking about them, in the same way that the experienced driver of a car uses the pedals and steering wheel completely automatically to perform whatever manoeuvre is required. Until this level of proficiency is attained, the Beginner should practise at every opportunity; fortunately, the basic form of each step requires no Partner and one can "sing", in one's head, an appropriate memorable and strongly rhythmic tune (such as the principal tune of the Reel, Mairi's Wedding, or of the Strathspey, The Duchess Tree). To avoid embarrassment, Skip change and the Strathspey travelling step can be practised in an empty corridor or a quiet street; an empty lift is ideal for Pas-de-basque and, if wide enough, for the Strathspey setting step and the Highland schottische setting step.

While Standing, the heels should be touching and the toes should be wide apart (in what a ballet dancer would know as the First position); officially, the feet should be at right angles to each other though this may be beyond the capacity of all but the younger dancers (see "Standing, heels on the floor, in the ideal ballet position 1" in the diagram below).

Diagram, Usage Of Footwork, Steps in Scottish Country Dancing
Conventions In Footwork - Full Size

Conventions in Footwork Diagrams

This diagram defines the conventions used in all diagrams for Footwork in this Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary. Note that in the representations of the steps, the movement for each beat is, for clarity, shown on a separate line. Where Ballet foot positions are referenced, the subset as used in Scottish Country Dancing is implied.
While moving, the feet should maintain this relationship to the forward direction with the heels raised so that the weight is on the ball of the foot; the heels are only on the floor when stationary. In the descriptions of the steps, each movement is shown in the approximate fraction of the bar which it should occupy.

The Lady and the Man almost always perform exactly the same steps when they are dancing together; this is in contrast to Ballroom Dancing where the Lady's steps usually are the "counterpart" of the Man's (i.e., with right and left, forward and backward and wall and centre interchanged) and frequently are quite different. Exceptionally, in Slip down/up and parts of all Poussette movements in Strathspey tempo, the Lady's and the Man's steps are left/right differentiated.

Again with the exception of highly prescriptive Figures such as Allemande, Poussette (of all types), Promenade round and The knot, another significant difference from Ballroom Dancing is the logical separation of the detail of the Footwork from the Figures; the Dancer simply uses the designated step to perform the desired Figure. The seven steps described here cover the vast majority of Scottish Country Dances; most Figures require only two of these dance steps, one when the Figure is used in a Strathspey and the other when used in a Reel, Hornpipe or Jig.


Fitting the steps to the music for Reels, Hornpipes, Strathspeys and Jigs is covered in the link below.

Links To Pages Related To 'Footwork'

Footwork

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