A reply from the pepetrator (Veeery loooong)

Andrea Re

Message 43332 · 1 Dec 2005 17:59:03 · Fixed-width font · Whole thread

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I have received a counter-reply to the (in)famous commentary which I am
happy to circulate, since the author has not managed to master how to
join the list yet:)
Since she has come out (so to speak) I can safely say that her name is
Jenny Cooper from St.Andrews and that she will read the replies directly
form the Strathspey server.

Andrea (the postie)
As perpetrator of the original e-mail (contained in message 43258) which
has fuelled this fairly lively debate I feel partially responsible for
this flurry of activity and would like to clarify a few points and make
some further observations.

Can I say first (in my own defence) that the original e-mail was a
private e-mail to a "friend"(!!) and was not intended for public
consumption - it was published without my knowledge in an unedited form.

*My background *
By way of explanation for some of the things that I am about to say, I
am a relative newcomer to Scottish Country Dancing and am by no means a
"dyed in the wool" convert. I have been to a few beginners classes, a
few dances (I usually end up in the loo in floods of tears) and one
Summer School. If some of my observations are heretical I apologise in
advance (please feel free to excommunicate me), but as I am probably a
member of the target audience which the RSCDS needs to attract (and at
which your response to the Scotsman article is also aimed), maybe my
views are of some relevance.

*Original article *
It was slightly unfortunate (but also quite interesting) that the two
things that I felt slightly uncomfortable about in my original e-mail,
were the ones which were picked up and dissected ad nauseam.

Firstly, I assume it is quite clear to everyone that I do not really
think that Dreyer-Larson ought to be shot. I sincerely hope (for both
our sakes) that the poor lady does not get herself gunned down in the
near future as I shall feel obliged to head for the nearest Penal
Institution and book myself a room. I'm not even sure (in retrospect)
that her comments were that outrageous, although they did certainly
contribute to the (largely) negative impact of the article.

The second comment ("no one gets upset if you take a wrong step", the
implication being, quite rightly, that they do at RSCDS dances) was
nearly removed from my original e-mail as it is not, in most cases, the
way people behave. I strongly suspect that I imagine that people get
upset with me far more than they actually do, and this may be a common
problem for beginners at dances who are lacking in confidence. From my
point of view, my footwork is OK(ish), and I can get myself through most
of the easy formations after a fashion. However, I seem to be totally
incapable of remembering combinations of formations (ie dances), with
the result that I usually arrive on the floor in a blind panic, praying
fervently that I am not first couple and usually end up feeling as
though I have single-handedly messed up the dance and spoilt everyone
else's enjoyment. The reality of the situation may be quite different,
but it was with this in mind that I wrote the comment which seemed to
cause such a furore. In all honesty, I can think of very few situations
where the more experienced dancers have been anything other than kind
and helpful, but they do need to understand that dances can be very
daunting for beginners.

*Response to Scotsman article *
I have a few concerns about the response that has been written to the
article that appeared in the Scotsman as I am not convinced that it is
addressing the right issues. I assume that the aim is to try and both
convince the Scottish public (the target readership) that Scottish
Country Dancing is a "youthful", fun activity as well as to dislodge
their perceptions that it is most suited to the "Zimmer-frame" brigade.
The emphasis in the article is very much on RSCDS being a worldwide
organisation. Whilst this is undoubtedly true, I am uncertain how this
is going to help convert the sceptics.

Sadly, the negative predisposition that young Scots have towards
Scottish Country Dancing is both inevitable and self-perpetuating and it
is not entirely a misconception - there is a large Zimmer-frame
contingent and this needs to change. In order to address the issues we
need to understand why the problem has arisen. In Scotland in
particular, I believe that there is an inherent problem with attracting
young people into Scottish Country Dancing. Inevitably, as we grow up
most of us rebel in some way against rules, traditions, culture etc. and
look for new, alternative ways to express ourselves - it's part and
parcel of the process. For those who were brought up in Scotland, a
cultural heritage which is embraced by grandparents, great grandparents
and a whole society of previous generations is just asking to be
rejected in favour of something more "interesting", "ethnic" and
"different". Conversely, if people who are brought up in other countries
pursue something from a different culture (in this case, Scotland) it is
perceived by both themselves and their peers as being slightly
avant-garde and therefore totally acceptable. In a similar vein, many of
the young dancers who I have met in Scotland are people from abroad who
have moved to Scotland and wish to immerse themselves in a new and
different culture.

The article that is being formulated provides an ideal opportunity to
tackle some of these issues and it would be a shame if the opportunity
were missed. Yes, RSCDS is a worldwide organisation and yes, Scottish
Country Dancing is part of traditional Scottish Culture (and these facts
should probably be mentioned), but are they really "plus" points in
terms of attracting younger Scottish people into the Society, or at
least on to the dance floor? My inclination is that the emphasis needs
to be somewhere else in order to gain maximum impact. Without going into
any detail (I really ought to be doing some work), perhaps the following
could warrant a mention:-

A great way to get fit

A social activity (trying as hard as possible to get away from the image
of a formal dance on a Saturday night in a bar-less venue, drinking cups
of tea and eating cucumber sandwiches in the interval)

Fun/lively (as Andrea pointed out in a subsequent message, birling does
have its place)

*One final observation *
This year I was persuaded, against my better judgement, to go to Summer
School. As I live in St Andrews anyway, it was no great commitment in
financial terms which was a good job as I was fairly sure that I would
not last the week - to be honest I was dreading it.

Anyway, I had the shock of my life and loved every minute of it. I had
virtually no sleep at all due to the constant stream of parties, and for
the first time in my life I actually enjoyed most of the dancing. At one
point I almost became a convert, but thankfully I saw the light just in
time! It was not what I was expecting at all and it did open my eyes to
the fact that perhaps, after all, this Scottish Country Dancing thing
might actually be quite fun.

It is this aspect of Scottish Country Dancing that the article needs to
try and get across to the Scottish public (if it is to have any impact
at all). I had spent 18 months on the fringes of RSCDS, not really
enjoying it particularly, but struggling on (albeit on a very occasional
basis) and I had no idea it could be such fun. Perhaps the most
important lesson that needs to be learnt is by the branches themselves -
if they are serious about expanding and encouraging a younger
membership, they need to adopt an attitude which is conducive to both
attracting new people and to keeping them.

*A heartfelt suggestion *
It has to be said that dances really can be very daunting and unfriendly
for newcomers and beginners. Personally I never go and ask other people,
especially strangers, to dance and, likewise, they rarely ask me. How
about having a set or two in one corner of the room which is advertised
as being for beginners or for those who would like to dance but who do
not have the confidence to go and find a partner. There would need to be
at least 2 or 3 experienced dancers per set who commit themselves to
spending a couple of dances during the evening getting people through
each dance. Beginners could just turn up in this corner as individuals
and would be paired up with other people in the same boat, knowing that
they are not going to be humiliated

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