Quadrilles are the earliest form of square dances and came from Paris after the Napoleonic wars from about 1816. Originally upper class dances they soon spread to the working classes.
Circle Dances are the ancestors of modern ballroom dances.
From 1700 to the middle of the 19th century the country dance was a tune with a dance figure. The dance was called after the tune. Normally two rows of dancers formed a line and the couples progressed down the row.
setting steps danced on the spot with a travelling figure.
When Highland Games were instituted with caber tossing, hammer throwing and piping, then the dancing contests too were male events. By 1900 girls had begun to enter the dancing competitions. The real Highland dances are the Highland Fling, the Sword Dance and the Seann Truibhais and they were never intended to be danced by women.
The hornpipe was a reed instrument often played on boats to provide music for dancing for the sailors and to give them much needed exercise.
More information on the dances and examples of tunes to illustrate them can be found in “Traditional Scottish Fiddling” by Christine Martin and in the “Ceilidh Collection for Fiddlers” series of four books.
Scottish Dance History
The Dashing White Sergeant
The origins of the tune and dance are not Scottish. The tune was composed by Sir Henry Rowley Bishop (the composer also of “Home Sweet Home.”) The words are by General John Burgoyne. It was first published in 1826 and the dance is influenced by the Scotch reel and Swedish country dances.
The Eightsome Reel
Today this is one of Scotland’s most popular ceilidh dances. Because it is so widespread there are slightly different ways of dancing it in each area of Scotland. The modern version of the eightsome reel appeared around 1870-80. It combines features of the scotch reel and the quadrille. It is thought it was devised by the Earl of Dunmore and friends based on earlier round reels remembered from the earlier 1870’s. Start with a 40 bar reel then play 48 bar reels and finish with a 40 bar reel.
The Gay Cordons
The Gay Gordons - This is a very popular ceilidh dance in Scotland today. The original tune was “The Gordon Highlanders” composed by James Scott Skinner in 1915 and dedicated to P.M. George S. MacLennan. There was previous reference to a Gay Gordons dance in 1907. More information on the dances and examples of tunes to illustrate them can be found in “Traditional Scottish Fiddling” by Christine Martin and in the “Ceilidh Collection for Fiddlers” series of four books.
The Highland Fling
This is considered the oldest Highland dance and is said to be based on the rutting of stags. It is thought it may be in origin an ancient fertility dance.
The hornpipe was a reed instrument often played on boats to provide music for dancing for the sailors, to give them much needed exercise. Later the music developed to accompany the sword dance, step dance and exhibition dances.
There are three types of hornpipe and they are associated with particular dances.
The Newcastle hornpipe was developed originally to play for clog dancers with their heavy shoes. It uses cross bowings, is at a moderate pace and sounds very smooth.
The Sailor’s hornpipe uses almost identical bowing styles and pace to Scottish reels.
The Sand Dance hornpipe has very clear note articulation and is generally played very quietly so one can hear the movement of the feet on the sanded stage.
The Scottish Jig - It is probable that Scottish jigs were derived from the European Gigue style. There have been jigs in Scotland since at least the 16th century and some Scottish jigs were known in England and France at this time, so it may be that the jig form originated in Scotland. At that time in England the jig was described as a representative type of Scottish music and the style considered difficult for English composers to write. Jigs were very popular in Scotland in the 17th century and many good jigs from the 18th century survive today and were named after specific country dances eg The Haymakers and The Bumpkin. Nowadays Scottish jigs are associated with lively tunes, many from the bagpipe repertoire, but in the past slow jigs were also played.
The Scottish Polka - This is another dance that has its origins on the continent and was introduced to Scotland as a circle dance around 1844. It became a popular dance style here and many new tunes were written for it. Many examples of the tune type are from Orkney and Shetland.
The Reel in Scottish Dance Tradition - “A true reel consists of setting steps danced on the spot with a travelling figure - the setting steps can be as varied as the dancers please, while the travelling figure is usually the same throughout the dance” J.P.Flett and T.M. Flett Traditional Dancing in Scotland). A reel (a Scotch Reel or Highland Reel) is noted for its rhythmic changes as it starts off with a strathspey and is followed by a reel. This is now commonly known as a foursome reel.
This is a circle dance that was introduced to Scotland from the continent. Firstly the common schottische (which means “Scottish Dance” and is based on the the German Polka) was introduced around 1849 and it was initially not very popular. But when the Highland Schottische was introduced (a combination of the common schottische and the old reel) it had immediate success and has been popular as a ceilidh dance ever since.
The Seann Truibhais
This is the youngest of the Highland dances and was devised during the time after Culloden (1746) when the wearing of the kilt was forbidden and men wore tartan trews instead which they hated.
The Highland strathspey takes its name from the area of Strathspey in Inverness-shire. One of the main features is the Scots snap. The strathspey is a dance performed by four dancers and the dancers take a long step or stride at the beginning.
Strip the Willow
The Strip the Willow is based on the character of a Hebridean weaving dance and can be performed to sets of 6/8 jigs or 9/8 jigs.
The Sword Dance
Malcolm Canmore, King of Scots, is credited with this dance. It is said that in 1058 he slew his opponent and placed his and his enemy’s sword on the ground in the form of a cross and danced in triumph.
The Two-Step in Scottish Dance Tradition - This is a fast ballroom dance of American origin. It became popular in the 1890’s and spread to Europe about 1900 and remained popular until replaced by the one-step and foxtrot shortly before World War 1. The term “two-step” was often used for the foxtrot in Europe during the 1910’s.
At ceilidh dances in the Highlands today the Military and Boston two-steps are some of the most popular dances and are mostly danced to modern two-step tunes.
The Waltz in Scottish Dance Tradition - The waltz is the earliest circle dance introduced into Scotland. It came from the continent around the beginning of the19th century and was not originally a popular dance. These days waltzes are very popular and as well as those specially written for the dance many are adaptions of well known songs from Scots and Gaelic tradition.
More information on the dances and examples of tunes to illustrate them can be found in “Traditional Scottish Fiddling” by Christine Martin and in the “Ceilidh Collection for Fiddlers” four book series.