Scottish Country, Highland and Step Dances

The MacLennan Scottish Group performs a wide variety of Scottish country, highland and ladies step dances. Scottish dancing is an ancient tradition, and many dances date back to the seventeenth and eighteenth century or earlier, but it is a live and continuing tradition, and new dances are constantly being written.

Country dances are performed by groups of people, usually dancing as couples, in sets of three, four, or more couples. The sets may be longwise (all the men on one side, with the ladies facing them) or square (men stand beside their partners around the sides of a square), or they may be other shapes. Old country dances, danced from early times both by country people and by the upper classes in their ballrooms, are generally characterised by simple patterns and shapes, with a limited repertoire of figures within dances. Modern country dances, on the other hand, are frequently complex, and show a wide variety of movements and patterns, often created with an almost mathematical attention to the design of the dance. Ironically, from the point of view of demonstration dancing, the simple patterns often show up best, but from the dancers’ viewpoint modern dances tend to be more interesting and challenging to perform.

The MacLennan Scottish Group draws on a wide variety of country dances in its performances, from ancient to modern. Often several dances are combined together, showing contrasting music, patterns and sets.
Scotland has relatively few traditional working dances, but there are some, and one of the most commonly performed is the Weaving Lilt, which shows the patterns of spinning and weaving cloth. Many countries have a similar dance.

Dances from the Shetland Islands in the far north of Scotland are characterised by simple patterns and a running step.

Scottish dancing differs from most folk dancing in that it is generally performed in soft, ballet-type shoes (the Weaving Lilt and Shetland dances are among the exceptions). The reason for this is that many dances were derived from the ballroom. In consequence the dancing has a light and precise style, and part of the interest lies in the intricate steps.

Highland and Ladies Step Dances show off the intricacies of the footwork to a greater degree than the country dances. Some of the most famous of the Highland dances are the Sword Dances, of which MacLennan Group performs the Argyle Broadswords, among others. The Ladies Step Dances, the oldest of which derive from the eighteenth-century ballroom, show a more graceful and gentle style. The MacLennan Group performs a variety of Ladies step dances, including the Lilt and the Deeside Lilt

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