Seattle Branch
Royal Scottish Country Dance Society


Resources:  History/Dress/For Fun

The Darling Diversion: The History of Scottish Country Dancing

Healthy Dancing

Scottish Dress

Auld Lang Syne - How does it go?


RSCDS-Seattle 99 Core LIst of Dances 

The Darling Diversion: The History of Scottish Country Dancing

(by Tracy Antley-Olander, based on The Darling Diversion by Evelyn M. Hood)

Scottish Country Dancing as we know it today has a long and fascinating history, dating to before the Norman invasion. Like so many early cultures, the Scots regarded dancing as an integral part of their ceremonies and festivals. They danced ring dances, reels, pantomimes, and the like.

Although the Saxons may have added influences to Scottish dancing, the real and enduring influences were Norman, and their descendants the French. The Normans brought couple dancing to the north. When James V of Scotland married Marie deGuise in 1524, his new French wife brought all her country's dance influences to her rough new home, including the bow and curtsey and several figures, such as advance and retire.

In a small country like Scotland, ruled primarily through the clan system, what the laird did his people did. Scottish country dancing influences traveled from court to countryside, from hall to barn, and back again. During the time the Scottish court fled to France in the mid 1600s, Scottish country dancing acquired the ballet-like footwork we see today. The same French court roots that created what we call ballet added an important aspect to Scottish dancing. By the end of the 17th century, dancing was all the rage. As the 18th century drew to mid-century, great Balls were held in England and Scotland. Scottish country dances were quite popular. Dancing masters taught children and adults in cities and hamlets. Even the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his brave Scots at the Battle of Culloden in 1745 did not dampen enthusiasm for Scottish dancing. By the end of the century, things Scottish were increasingly popular, including its music, dances, and poetry. [Drawing of a couple dancing]

The 19th century saw a blossoming of dancing. Everyone wanted to dance well; it was the mark of a lady or gentleman. Dances we do today were already old favorites, some dating from 1750. The waltz and quadrille began encroaching on the more technical country dances as the century wore on, and intimacy between couples replaced the spirit of the dances done in sets.

By the 20th century, Scottish country dancing had all but faded to the rural halls. Modern dances such as the two-step and fox-trot joined with the waltz to dominate dances. Then a small group of individuals began seeking out old dances and music. Led by Miss Jean Milligan and Mrs. Stewart of Fasnacloich, they formed the Scottish Country Dance Society in Glasgow, Scotland in 1923.

The Society sought out old versions of dances, talked with elderly people who had danced in their youth, and gradually standardized footwork, figures, and dances. Now, the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (Royal was bestowed on the Society by King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II's father) has branches and clubs worldwide. New figures have been devised, and hundreds of new dances written. You can go to many cities in the world and do the same figures you dance in Seattle. Truly, SCD is an international dance society where those who love the music, the grace, the happy social spirit can gather to dance the traditional dances of Scotland, the darling diversion.

The Story of SCD: The Darling Diversion. by Evelyn M. Hood. History of SCD. Collins, 1980.

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Healthy Dancing

Here is a link to a dissertation  on the strathspey server about dancing healthy.

Scottish Dress


"The only traditional Scottish dress is that of the man; the ladies have always worn the dresses of the period. The tartan sash is the only traditional thing the ladies can don. It should be fastened on the left shoulder or passed over the left shoulder and fastened at the waist on the right side. This second method looks best with a long sash that comes nearly to the bottom of a long evening dress." [Dr. Jean Milligan, Introducing SCD]

The RSCDS has a special privilege, from Her Majesty the Queen, to wear the sash on the left shoulder. SCDers proudly wear their sashes on the left, in accordance with our privilege. Others normally wear the sash over the right shoulder, except wives of clan heads, who have a special privilege to wear the sash pinned on the left.

Three styles of wearing the sash noted by Thomas Innes, Lord Lyon, 1961:

  • Sash across one shoulder, the long end taken under the other arm and back over the shoulder again where it is broached, the ends hanging freely front and back (as in the RSCDS dancer motif on the cover). The style seems to date from Victorian times.
  • Sash fixed at a shoulder, about midway along, the ends taken one forward and one back and then tied to each other at the waist on the other side, from where the short ends hang freely.
  • Style for a wider sash (18" or more wide and about 2 yards long.) Gathered in to a brooch on a shoulder: the top, possibly rather longer, end hangs freely from the shoulder at the back and the lower one is draped slightly as it is taken across the back and is then fixed all the way across the back waist, with nothing but the fringe hanging below the waist from this end of the sash. [The Sash, by Jennifer A. Shaw. RSCDS Bulletin No. 71]
How to fold a Sash

To make a rosette, e.g., for the third style listed above, lay the sash out to its full length, and fold it in half. Fold the folded end down 6 or 7 inches and wind a rubber band tightly around the middle (fig. 1).

[Drawing of sash with beginnings of rosette.]                Then spread it into a rosette (fig. 2)            


[Drawing of sash - folded part spread out into circle.]     

and fasten the edges of the half circles together with invisible pins at A and B. Fasten a large brooch in the center of the rosette. Now you're ready to pin the sash to your dress. Using a large safety pin, pin the rosette to the shoulder of your dress from underneath, with the ends of the sash floating down your back. Now ask a friend to help you. Moving the top layer of the sash out of the way, ask your friend to pin the closest edge of the sash to the right side of your dress at the waist with a medium safety pin, so it doesn't show. That's it.


Miss Milligan had this to say about Scottish men's formal wear: "When wearing a kilt, the shirt should be white or pale pastel. A plain tie should be worn - not a tartan one - and the sleeves should be fastened at the wrists. For day dress, a tweed kilt jacket is correct, but is rather expensive. The stockings are plain colored - fawn, green and blue or even white. A leather sporran is suitable for day wear or for evening dress. Animal face sporrans are for evening dress only. The belt with silver buckle is worn with evening dress only. Full evening dress is very beautiful, but costly, and good advice should be taken before it is bought."

Kilts - cost a good deal, so talk with people before purchasing one. The kilt should reach just to the top of the knee cap.
Sporran - The pouch that men wear with the kilt. It takes the place of pockets for carrying keys and cheat sheet. A leather sporran is the most versatile, being acceptable as day or evening wear.
What is worn under the kilt - One of the great Scottish mysteries (and straight line for several jokes)
Flashes - The pieces of ribbon (now often elastic) used to hold up the stockings.
Skean dhu/Sghian Dhu - The knife carried in the stocking top.
Kilt Jacket - Shorter than a suit jacket.

"A sporran is a useful thing, when trousers you must doff,
It also proves itself a boon, in case your kilt falls off"

What tartan can I wear?

The association of particular tartans with clans is a recent development, started in Victorian times. If you have Scottish ancestry and choose to follow that tradition, then you probably know more about it than we do and don't need our advice. There are some tartans that most everyone agrees anyone can wear: State and District Tartans (Washington state has one, as does Seattle), Canadian Provincial Tartans, and other generic tartans, like Culloden or Clergy. Check our links section for websites with examples of tartans. There are also tartans with no name, that anyone can use. If you don't have Scottish ancestry, don't worry about it. Before the Victorians, there was not such uniformity about who wore what tartan. The purpose of our group is to dance, so first and foremost, find a tartan you like. If you are interested in the traditions of clans, tartans, etc., ask around. There are knowledgeable folk in the group, and there are other organizations devoted to such subjects.

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Auld Lang Syne -  How does it go??

Written by Robert Burns     (several of its verses)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And Days o' lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!


And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine,
We'll tak a right guid willie-waught,
For auld lang syne.

Chorus: repeated

Scottish Glossary

Athole Brose - Hogmanay beverage made with oatmeal water, scotch whiskey and honey.
"For e'er since he wore the tartan hose He dearly liket Athole brose." Neil Gow's Farewell

Ceilidh ("cayley") = dancing + singing + music + poetry + games + skits + humor. Sometimes a ceilidh consists solely of performances, our Ceilidhs are usually primarily dances, with a few performances thrown in.

Scottish Country Dance (SCD) - the social dancing of Scotland.

Demo. - dance demonstration.

Ghillies - dancing shoes; resemble a ballet slipper with laces.

Haggis - the traditional Scottish sausage is made with oats, onions, spices and the usual sausage ingredients, stuffed into a sheep's stomach. (Before you say ewww! - consider what other sausages are usually made of and stuffed into.) Traditionally served with neeps or rutabagas (the gold/yellow colored root veggies) and tatties (potatoes).  Today, the haggis is often more "Americanized" since some of its parts are hard to acquire.

Highland Dance - solo dancing of Scotland using leaps and acrobatic foot movements.

Hogmanay - Scottish new-years celebration.

Pilling Diagram - system of graphically describing dances, originated by F.L. Pilling in Scottish Country Dances in Diagrams.

Robert Burns (1759-1796) - most famous of Scottish poets.

SCD - Scottish Country Dance.

Skean dhu ("skeen doo") - The small knife a man carries in his stocking. (Gaelic meaning black knife)

Sporran - predecessor of the fanny pack, since kilts don't have pockets.

Step Dance - soft version of highland dancing that has roots in national dancing.

Tartan - a plaid design with a repeated pattern, or sett.



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