strathspey Archive: Scottish Reform & American Colonial Dances

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Scottish Reform & American Colonial Dances

Message 14982 · Ken McFarland · 7 Dec 1998 21:31:26 · Top

At excellent resource for complete information about country / contra
dancing in North America is "Country Dances of Colonial America" by John
Millar of Williamsburg, Virginia.
ISBN (USA) 0-934943-28-i (soft bound)
My copy is at least 8 years old and I am not sure as to availability.
Country Dance & Song Society did carry it. (web: but be
careful to guard your wallets...there are lot's of great dance products
available at that site.
John Millar is a "caller" and scholar who is also somewhat of an authority
on "Assembly
Room" architecture. This book covers dances from the US, Canada and the
Caribbean, as well as English and Scottish dances as they were done in North
It is lavishly illustrated with black and white drawings, which
incidentally, seem to invalidate the hooped-skirt theory of strathspey dance
development as put forth by the Flett's. The movement of the human body is
easily seen dancing in clothing from many periods. But see for yourself -
the pictures show more than words.

Ken McFarland
Fairbanks, Alaska

Ben's info is what got me started on this....thanks Ben!

>A little about the relationship between Scottish Country Dancing and New
>England Contra Dancing. The earlier form of course was what we now call
>English Country Dancing but the diversion into SCD took place some time
>earlier than that to American Contra Dancing. Some of the earliest scottish
>dances apparently emigrated to the US and underwent some minor
>transformations. Evidently, some time around the War of 1812, the Pousette
>disappeared from the standard figures in the US and the last figure of
>several dances changed to rights and lefts, following a cast off at the end
>of the down the middle and back. A New England choriographer, entranced
>with patriotism and the recently ended war,renamed the modified dances:
>Thus, Scottish Reform became Hull's Victory (Isaac Hull-Captain of the
>Constitution-Old Ironsides), Linton Ploughman became Jefferson and Liberty,
>etc. Petronella however stayed Petronella. In all these cases the change
>from down the middle and back followed by Pousette, to down the middle and
>back, cast off and rights and lefts persisted. In some parts of the east
>the setting step changed to a kick balance but in others, particularly
>central Vermont, the balance step is a rather reserved setting step: i.e a
>slightly forward and back right, left, right; left, right left-not at all
>un-scottish. Watching the Larkin Dancers (a demonstration group established
>in the 1920's to keep the old dances alive) dancing these dances in the old
>style is very illuminating. I think that most of us are aware that even the
>Scottish dances were danced "in lines for as many as will" until almost
>1900-as are contra dances to this day.
>Ben Stein
>Burlington, Vt

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