The Way to Dance (was Use of 3rd Rear Aerial)

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Message 19703 · 9 Dec 1999 00:06:52 · Fixed-width font · Whole thread

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If you already know The Way to Dance, hit the delete key now.

>[Malcolm:] I always find it difficult to know whether I have beliefs
>that have been worked out independently, or whether I have just
>worked out a way to justify what I was taught many years ago. I know
>with circle round and back I changed from using 3ra to using 1st in
>the transition because my Prelim tutor Duncan Macleod said you use
>travelling step in a circle, and 3ra is not part of a travelling
>step - I was young and impressionable at the time so I just took it
>as gospel!

Malcolm's point about how we come to our beliefs about what is
"correct" is quite telling. We have all come to where we are by
different paths, and although there is a lot of commonality in our
notions about what is correct in SCD, there is a lot of variability
as well.

I can't pinpoint when I picked up this dictum of the circle
transition and incorporated it into my dancing and teaching (changing
from using 3ra [third rear aerial low] to using 1st position for
direction reversal in a circle). I think at the time I figured that
it made some sense and it was easy for me to do it either way (not
having a rationale for why one should use 1st position or 3ra). I
don't know who my messenger was, but when it is someone as
illustrious as Duncan MacLeod, it makes sense to take note and listen.

When somebody claims that something is "correct", my first question
is to the basis for the claim. Is it explicitly in the Manual? Is it
a logical extension of what is in the Manual? Is it based on body
dynamics, balance and flow? If I can answer "yes" to one of these
questions, then I would probably agree with that person.

If the claim is based on "this is the way I was taught", or "an
important person told me it was correct", then my alarm bells go off
and the red light start flashing. Also, there is a problem with
"logical extension". Many people who would use logical extension have
not mastered the essentials of Logic 101 or have started from
questionable assumptions, so their logical processes are faulty and
their conclusions have no valid basis.

While certainly not a big deal in the overall scheme of things, the
issue of how to do direction reversals in Strathspey circles
(hands-round) is a very good example. I can state with some
confidence that it is now _generally accepted_ that 1st position, not
3ra position, is correct for this direction reversal.

Why is this so? There is no official documentation from the Society
which specifies this practice (go ahead, scour The Manual and all
revisions of its predecessor Won't You Join The Dance). The practice
has spread completely by word of mouth. It is undocumented folklore!
Nothing more.

Is it a logical extension of what is in the Manual? While Duncan
MacLeod's assertion (as remembered by Malcolm) seems reasonable on
the surface, there are some problems with it. The Manual clearly
states that circles (Hands Round) are done with traveling steps. The
Manual gives no details on the direction reversal itself, only that
it happens. In fact, because of the hands joined in the circle the
steps are only approximate the traveling steps specified in the
manual. When traveling to the left with right crossing over left, the
body between shoulders and hips has a strong twist which is "not part
of" a traveling step, and when the left foot steps to the left, the
body is nearly facing the center of the circle, which is also not how
a travelling step is danced but which _is_ very much like a setting
step. What happens on the direction reversal bears no resemblance to
the transition between travel forward on the left followed by travel
forward on the right. Two conclusions: (1) The Manual itself is on
shaky ground claiming that hands round is done with traveling steps;
(2) Duncan MacLeod's "logical" conclusion on a detail in the
transition with these heavily modified traveling steps (half of which
look and feel like setting steps) is without merit. So much for
logical extension.

How did the practice spread so effectively? While I don't know the
answer, it is a really good bet that teacher training tutors at St.
Andrews and our examiners are prime suspects.

What is wrong with this picture? To be certain, the teacher training
and examination process is an effective medium for instilling a
particular practice. But if it were so important to instill this
practice, then why has the Society produced NO documentation to
support it? Why is it still folklore?

Is it possible that in its wisdom, the RSCDS has recognized that STEP
TRANSITIONS is a very complicated topic, and that: (1) it might be
best to let dancers work out transitions for themselves to fit their
own skill and coordination? (2) it is an area that should not be
formalized? (3) if it were formalized on a consistent basis, a
significant amount of what is considered "correct" as established by
folklore would have to change? (4) it would be better so say nothing
that to say something stupid? Will inquiring minds be satisfied?

Then along comes somebody named Oberdan from a place called
Camarillo, that you cannot even pronounce, let alone find on a map. A
long time ago he slipped through the RSCDS examination process. Now
he challenges the established practice with an argument based on body
dynamics and a simple, consistent rule for using 3ra in STEP
TRANSITIONS. He asserts that while some transitions are "pure",
others require the steps that sandwich a transition to be danced
differently from their basic definitions. The assertion does not
change the way people dance, it just describes what happens when they

Oberdan further asserts that it is possible to develop a consistent
formalism for step transitions based on body dynamics. Such a
formalism would not have to dictate how transitions should be danced,
but could identify characteristics of good transition methods. Such a
formalism would most assuredly challenge many peoples cherished
notions about what is "correct" by giving credibility to equally
effective or to more effective alternatives. Such a possibility is
dangerous to those who already know The Way to Dance.

Cheers, Oberdan.

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