Camberley Reel Club

Library - A Short History of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society

The manners and elegance of Scottish dancing come from the French Court, and are a lingering part of the 'Auld Alliance' between Scotland and France. In the Basque country, even today, they speak of their Scottish steps, but in the early years of the 20th century the delightful national dances of Scotland were either in the process of being forgotten, or were being performed in such an incorrect and vulgar manner as to lose all their national characteristics. The friendly spirit, so characteristic of Scottish gatherings in the past, was disappearing, and in 1923 Mrs. Ysobel Stewart of Fasnacloich and Miss Jean C. Milligan formed The Scottish Country Dance Society. They were determined to create once more, if possible, a real interest in Scottish dancing in its best form. Events proved them successful beyond their wildest dreams.

It was fortunate that there were still many people - mostly very old people - who knew how dances should be done, and who could give definite and authentic information on correct form of dance and technique, excellently taught in their youth. The first book of dances published by the Society was a collection of twelve dances, each of which was still danced in some part of Scotland. Dances have been collected and published regularly ever since, and wherever possible the oldest known form of the dance has been adopted by the Society. Old manuscripts were lent to the Society and deciphered in the light of the knowledge gained from living sources.

The fact that Scottish National Dancing has never died is greatly due to the social pattern of Scotland. The country dance, although a Ballroom dance, became unfashionable elsewhere in U.K., and after it had been for a time the dance of the peasantry, it was practically forgotten. In Scotland this did not occur - here the clan system ruled, and as the Chief did, so did all his followers. Thus Scottish dancing belonged to all grades of society as it does to this day. The Scottish people seem, however to have been averse to writing down their dances, in fact their songs, music and dances have been handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth only. This makes any real historical data scarce and valuable.

The Society thus formed in 1923 in Glasgow began to spread. Edinburgh, then Perth, then town after town formed Branches of the society. Soon England became interested, classes and then Branches were formed all over the country, and Scots all over the world were hearing of the wonderful revival of one of Scotland's most delightful heritages, and were starting classes then Branches overseas.

The danger of course in this marvellous spreading of interest is any careless straying from tradition. To form a definite centre of knowledge a Summer School at St. Andrews was held in 1927, and continues to this day, now much enlarged. Many countries and many languages are seen and heard at St. Andrews, but the tradition of friendliness, social good manners and elegance, engendered by Scottish Country Dancing always prevails.

The title of 'Royal' was bestowed on the Society by King George VI shortly before his death in 1951. It is a matter of great pride and satisfaction to the Society that the Queen has been our Patron since 1947.

Since 1949 the Society has sent demonstration teams abroad which have done much to publicise Scotland's dances. World wide there are now some 130 Branches, and over 300 Affiliated Groups. In recognition of her contribution to the cultural life of Scotland Miss Jean Milligan was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Law by Aberdeen University in July 1977. She died on 28th July 1978 aged 92, after a short illness, prior to which she had been teaching, travelling, examining and vigorously working for the Society all over the world. She has left us a rich legacy of Scottish Country Dancing and music.

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