Starting Poussette on Left FootThe Poussette in Scottish Country Dancing is a formally prescribed Figure which uses Pas-de-basque to provide an elegant means of Progression in Quick tempo, Longwise set dances.
The basic, but seemingly unwritten, rule over Starting any Scottish Country Dancing Figure is that the right foot step should be used. There are a few necessary exceptions: Hands round to the left and Travelling to the left using Slip step and all Figures in which two Dancers Face each other and Travel in the same absolute Direction (Slip down/up, Step up/down and all forms of Poussette in Strathspey tempo). In all of these, one of the Dancers uses the right foot step and the other the left foot.
Poussette (using Pas-de-basque) is the glaring exception. According to conventional RSCDS teaching, the Men should Start the first bar of the Poussette by using the left foot step of Pas-de-basque, i.e., as in Pas-de-basque - Bar 2 whereas their Partners should Start normally, using the right foot, i.e., as in Pas-de-basque - Bar 1.
Over the years, many have questioned their RSCDS teachers with no satisfactory reply; the answer has always been, "That's the rule". Curiously, the Scottish Dance Branch of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing never adopted this convention. Even more curiously, it is not mentioned in the section on POUSSETTE in RSCDS-Learn Steps and Techniques-Formations.
The rare alternative form, Borders' poussette, which was popular in the Scottish Borders in the early part of the 20th century, was favoured by Allie Anderson and John Duthie in A Complete Guide to Scottish Country Dancing (undated but probably published in the late 1920s) because, among other things, the Men are not required to Start on the left foot.
During the Covid-19 restrictions in 2020, the RSCDS organized a weekly online class. On two different occasions in June, the teachers covered Poussette; in passing, both just said, and with no hint of explanation as though it were obviously necessary, that the Men Start Poussette with a left foot step. This prompted an e-mail query to the RSCDS in an attempt to obtain an authoritative answer to the question, "Why should the Men have to Start the first bar of the Poussette using the left foot step?".
Summary of Query to RSCDS HQ
Since this is an exception to the normal rule (right foot first), justification is needed. For any Formation involving a Couple Facing each other with hands joined and moving sideways, it is obvious that one of the Couple must Start on the left foot. This never arises in Poussette where all Travelling is either forward or backward.
Aside from the disruption of having to change foot, requiring the Men to Start on the left foot actually appears to have the following additional disadvantages with no concomitant advantage:
- the quarter Turns at bars 2 and 4 become unsymmetrical;
- 2nd man (bar 2), 1st man (bar 4) and both (bar 6) have to make a clockwise rotation around Partner on a right foot step; and
- there is a risk of accidentally kicking one's Partner in the jeté.
All of these considerations are of especial disbenefit to the less-experienced or less talented dancer who needs to be encouraged rather than deterred. While those who are sufficiently accomplished can cope with all the extra complication, it is important to recognize that they are a small minority of the Scottish Country Dancing community.
Although the prompt reply was not for publication, the RSCDS has subsequently added the following section on POUSSETTE to Technique Advisory Panel: Dances:
Q. Can you explain more about the Poussette in Jig or Reel time?
A. The Poussette may have been danced many years ago with waltz type steps and arm/hand holds, therefore as such it would have been lady right man left - so in the close hold feet did not get stood on.
The Society have always said that the man should begin on his Left foot in the Poussette in Jig or Reel time, as in the Manual and A Guide to Scottish Country Dancing. However Miss Milligan said that, "as long as the dancers are in time to the music and the movements do not draw the eye of the onlooker, that is the main thing".
(The above Q&A text is reproduced here with the kind permission of the RSCDS.)
On 5 August 2020, the teacher also covered Poussette, concentrating on the subtleties of changing foot before and after the Figure for the Men. This was probably the strongest evidence one could encounter for not following the RSCDS injunction. He spent much of the class in doing a good job in explaining the hoops that the Men have to go through to achieve a tidy change of foot. These are well beyond the great majority of social dancers and those few who actually succeed are then faced with much more difficult clockwise Turns on right foot steps in the Poussette itself. If my early teachers (Martin Sprague and Jean Attwood) had taught it that way, I (RF) might well have given up Scottish Country Dancing in despair.
Someone of that online class, identified only as Mike, said that he was having "trouble starting on the left foot pas de basque". My answer to him would be, "Don't try!"; that way he will save much heartache, he will find Poussette much more straightforward, it will look much more elegant and his Partner will find it more comfortable.
- The convention is an exception which is difficult to justify.
- It appears to have arisen as part of the baggage associated with some of the many variants of the Figure from which the Scottish Country Dance Society chose and formalized the current version, where it is not only unnecessary but also adds gratuitous complication.
- While the RSCDS appears to have no intention of changing the official requirement, it is acceptable that those Men (especially the females reluctantly having to dance as such) who find the convention difficult should ignore it; as ordinary social dancers, they will find it much more straightforward to Start the Figure, to Finish it and to show the elegant rectilinearity within it. If challenged by any fundamentalist, refer to Jean Milligan's words quoted above.
- Those who are especially competent in Footwork, or aspire to be so, are encouraged to attempt the difficult task of making their performance equally elegant while observing the convention.
Note that a deviser has the right to specify that the convention should not be followed as, for example, in The Dark Island.
Links To Pages Related To 'Poussette Movements'Complex Figures
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