The Shepherd's Crook

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Message 60253 · 22 Jan 2011 15:59:34 · Fixed-width font · Whole thread

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Responding to …
Rosemary Coupe [2011/01/20 22:21:31]
Jan Rudge [2011/01/20 22:49:41]
Andrew Smith 2011/01/21 09:40:16]

I think these responders have missed my point, that by “Shepherd´s Crook”, not being a country dance it has no reason to follow current country dance conventions, e.g. having the music at the top.

Dance, besides being an art form is essentially a form of communication. So the question should be with whom are the dancers attempting to communicate. Certainly not each other in this case because a large part of the dance, involves no interaction between the dancers. Certainly not the musicians, who are simply providing the motivation through their music, so that leaves the spectators, who are either 90º opposite the musicians, or in a 270º arc not including the musicians. Therefore the dance should face the spectators.

Issues, such as this come up because of the nature of the Scottish country dance movement. Please note that I am not against the movement, I have enjoyed teaching, and still enjoy dancing Scottish country dances, and consider myself a loyal member of the Society.

Dance forms are an expression of the culture which gives rise to them. The problem comes when myths, such as the genesis ones associated with the founding of the RSCDS are believed to be true when they are not. Country dancing evolved to a point, and then died as a common social expression in dancing when couple dancing replaced set dancing.

Points to Miss Stewart for attempting to revive a lost cultural activity. Of course the task was impossible unless one considers the revival a new art form, which country dancing is today, divorced from its roots, and culture, and not performed by the majority of the population from which it evolved.

Like many religions based on myth, there is a priesthood, those whose identity is partially defined by the movement which they preach. The problem arises when this becomes a power trip, giving the some the right to define true doctrine from heresy.

There was a time when the West considered the earth the center of the uniform. This can be made to work when it comes to clocks, calendars, seasons, etc. But because the basic primise is false, the math gets complicated, and a lot of stress is created is in one of Gulliveer´s travels where there are two parties based on which end of a hard boilded eg should be cracked, when the fact is that it does not matter.

The same is true of Scottish country dancing, which as a 20c invention, enjoyed by thousands around the world, has the right to make its own rules, and evolve as it chooses. The problem with rules, when based on a false premise, is that like an earth centered universe, life gets complicated when various priesthoods compete for power based on a supposed truth that is essentially false. So discussions are often not based on logic, intelligence, but on questionable appeals to authority.

Miss M, was a dynamic leader who took over and put her stamp on a movement that many of us enjoy. However she was a person of her time, and neither a scholar or dance expert. So starting with what she thought she knew to be fact, she created the original dances of the RSCDS by recycling the work of the EFDSS or resurrecting dead dances from the notes available to her.

For those of us, trained by her, and her disciples, it is very difficult to step back, and look at the historical reality when we have been brainwashed in a context which she provided.

A quick example, from my research. As a certificated RSCDS dance teacher, I “knew” what an allemande was. So when I saw the word, I had a certain image in my mine when reading dance notes. Nevermind that the notes predated Miss M, who had invented the figure that existed in my mind. It was only when I evolved a computer analysis that applied various rules for music, progression, etc. that I realized that prior to Miss M, the only use of the term was a movement, that only used up only 2 bars of an 8 bar phrase. Once I realized this, returning to the original dance descriptions, that the punctuation of the description indicated that the allemande was never meant to be any more then that. So, all of a sudden all the RSCDS “down and back” + “allemande” was not 4+4+8 but 4+2+2, which fit with the 24 bar music, in the source, that we have edited to 32 bars to accommodate our myth.
[The same can be proven for other myths such as: left shoulder reels, pousettes, double triangles, strathspeys, etc. Repeating, there is nothing wrong with acting out a myth, as long as one realizes that it is a myth, and one enjoyes the action, and nothing wrong with evolving from a mythical beginning.

The problem comes when people do not accept that a myth is such, and then feel a need to defend the jmyth makers wile disregarding the evidence. In the Case of the MacNab dances, I enjoy some, to dance, others to teach, and the majority of others I avoid. These are merely composed exhibition dances invented by a dance teacher in her time and place. There is no documentation that they existed before here creation of them. However she was not following in 19 dance tradition because the tradition does not indicate dances designed to be watched, but as a social activity involving interaction between the dancers only, not an audience.

The problem with citing authorities such as Thurston and the Fletts, is that one is simply citing something that they wrote at a particular point in time. Unfortunately for the citation´s validity, is that time moves on and people gain more knowledge and change. High Thurston was both a disciple and and an interpreter of Mrs MacMab when she was alive, it was only later, free of her influence, and a little more sceptical of the RSCDS, that he began to question his earlier publication. The same goes for the Fletts, as one can see in their later publications under the EFDSS auspices. In fact, Mrs Flett was at a conference in the 70s where pretty much everything I posted here was presented by me in a paper, and she agreed with me in a discussion afterwards.

Noone is disrespecting Miss M or Mrs MacNab,, what is being disrespected is the myths of others based on their interpretation of them. Yes, Thurston and Emnmerson had intellectual honesty, because when they saw through the myth, they changed their interpretation. They were academics in their own fields, and respected their dance teachers for theirs. However, like children who grow up, they stopped believing in Santa and the tooth fairy, admitted their earlier mistakes and moved on. Unfortunately, some of the myths still exist, and people are still acting as if they were true.

Evidence suggests, that the top or head of the set, was orientted towards the “presence”, and not historicly towards the music. By the time the RSCDS arrived, the social aspect had also canged so that there was no longer a presence by which to align the dance, so the “music” took that place. Simple cultural evolution. If one looks at all the documentqation illustrating dances, I doubt if they will find that the music is the point of reference for the sets. I gave two examples, Blair Castle, and the Edinburgh Assembly rooms, where the musicians position was half way down one side of the long access of the room. By accepting the RSCDS myth, this presented a problem at the Assembly rooms since by alliging with the “music” the organization of the sets became more complicated the last time I attended. If we think of the “top” of the set as in the direction of Charlotte or St Andrew´s Squares, the room would comfortably be 3-4 sets wide by 6-8 sets long. However by changing the orientation to the “music” this means more lines of about 3 sets crosswise, so assuming the 18 sets, instead of three to round off at the bottom, there are now six, remembering that the sets were longer in those days. The same holds for Blair Castle. In ballrooms without a musicians platform, these performers are usually placed in a corner, or a balcony similar to a church choir loft, wich would place them at the bottom of the set, opposite to top of the set.

To Jan Rudge, “Sheperd´s Crook” is not just mainly seen as a demo, it is a demo, in that it lacks the elements necessary to make it a community social dance since the focus is outside the set. This does not apply to foursome, because, the focus remains between the 4 dancers, who at no time are found setting to empty space. The Crook, as a threesome would be the same, except in its choreographed version.

It is interesting that a fairly typical example of passive-aggressive expression has slipped into this post. I am referring to the use of the word “surely” in the quotation, “I wouldn´t say there´s a top and a bottom to it either … top and bottom would refer to the hall, <<surely>>?”. The writer is making the assumption that all right thinking orthodox membess of the faith would agree with her, when evidence suggests that this is not the case. Has no one ever heard of MissM´s famous, “dance to the bottom and fall apart”. Top and bottom are, or at least were in my day, pretty standard terms for positions within the set, not just the room. As a part of my archives are handy, I checked this out, keeping in mind that, as evidence of the Society´s lack of academic style, it is a bit tricky to determine order and authenticity when it comes to their publications.. At random, I pulled two copies of SCD Book 5.

I consider the older for the following reasons: copyright 1928, price 3/´ advertises books 1 to 14 at the back, suggesting that the copyright is invalid.
I consider the newer because although it has a 1924 copyright, it is listed as the 1964 revised edition, sold at 5/ ´but is over stamped as 25p, suggesting that it was sold in the 1970´s. It advertises books 1 to 17.
In 1, there is a foreward which states SCD “are usually danced in lines (Fig. A) the women having their right side to the dais (or the orchestra) …..” Note that the dais (e.g. presence as in England) is the norm, with “music” only an alternative. BTW the set has 5 couples. All of the 12 dances are each given one opening with the music on the right, and on the left, title, floor plan putting the “top” of the set to the left, dance description, then any notes. However in example 2, there is no foreward, but of the 12 dances, the illustration indicates the top of the set (not the room) with the word “top” printed just to the left of the first couple´s place. In other words, “top” was an accepted term as opposed to “bottom” by sometime between the publication of book 14 and book 17. So the use of the word “surely” is simply a vague way of saying that in the writer´s opinion, this is true, without actually taking responsibility for that opinion.

Richard Goss.

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