strathspey Archive: the Cape Breton connection

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the Cape Breton connection

Message 6170 · Terry Traub · 15 Jan 1997 02:56:08 · Top

Huh? I thought that it was pretty well established in recent years
that there's an old Scottish step dancing style that was very similar
to modern Cape Breton step dancing. There's been some research into
reconstructing this dancing. Reports of people's grandparents who see
CB dancing comparing it to how their own grandparents did it, and so
forth.

Now someone's saying that the step dancing in Cape Breton is a
recently developed thing? Quite a coincidence if it's so similar to
old Scottish step dancing. Next they'll be saying the Cape Breton
fiddle style is a recent made-up thing, coincidentally similar to
remnants of the Scottish Highland styles.

the Cape Breton connection

Message 6176 · FarMcTrav · 15 Jan 1997 04:55:17 · Top

In a message dated 97-01-14 14:54:00 EST, Kate Dunlay wrote:

<< But the introduction of the quadrilles, which meant the
demise of the Scotch Four and other dances based on Highland Reel forms,
could have influenced the music....... This happened around the time the
piano became popular. The insertion of the stepdancing into the quadrilles
in Inverness County helped preserve the character of the music.

>>>>>>>>> Original manuscripts and books from the time period 1830 show that
Quadrilles were co-existing (though gaining popularity) with Scottish and
English Country Dances, as well as "Scotch" Reels, and at least at that time
period there was a clear distinction between the different dance types. Then,
as now, dancers vote with their feet. Unless I misunderstood your question,
and your reference was to dancing in Cape Breton, not Scotland?
>> What date are you assuming the piano became popular? I've always assumed
1800 or slightly after. That seems like it may be some time before the
Quadrille became the popular dance. I have a Gow manuscript dated 1796 in
which he introduces German 'Valtzes' and Allemandes, but there are no
Quadrilles in the book.
>>>> Besides, Minnie MacMaster told me that the names of the informants from
whom the Fletts collected from were not ones she knew as being the main
dancing families in Cape Breton. <<<

I grow increasingly cautious about accepting the evaluation of any
interpretive dance historian, including both Flett and Thurston. I would not
suggest completely rejecting what they say, but I would recognize that they
had their own interpretation (or slant) on these old books, manuscripts,
people they interviewed, etc. What Minnie told you makes the point for me. I
suspect there is still room for more work on interpretation.
Thurston, for example, strikes me as being overly fixated on the importance
of Wilson {Marjorie calm down! :)} and he may be right on many things, but
not necessarily on every detail; I think the same is true with the Fletts,
and as far as that goes, on any historian on any subject.

One persons opinion ~
Ken McFarland
San Francisco

the Cape Breton connection

Message 6187 · Kate Dunlay or David Greenberg · 15 Jan 1997 17:09:05 · Top

>In a message dated 97-01-14 14:54:00 EST, Kate Dunlay wrote:
>
><< But the introduction of the quadrilles, which meant the
> demise of the Scotch Four and other dances based on Highland Reel forms,
> could have influenced the music....... This happened around the time the
> piano became popular. The insertion of the stepdancing into the quadrilles
> in Inverness County helped preserve the character of the music.
>
> >>>>>>>>> Original manuscripts and books from the time period 1830 show that
>Quadrilles were co-existing (though gaining popularity) with Scottish and
>English Country Dances, as well as "Scotch" Reels, and at least at that time
>period there was a clear distinction between the different dance types. Then,
>as now, dancers vote with their feet. Unless I misunderstood your question,
>and your reference was to dancing in Cape Breton, not Scotland?
>Ken McFarland

Yes, in the above paragraph I meant Cape Breton (Inverness County is in
C.B.), where neither the piano nor quadrilles like the Saratoga Lancers
made inroads until the early 1900s. It's possible that an eight-hand reel
resembling the third figure of the Inverness set may have come over from
Scotland, other than that I assume the Square Sets (quadrilles) came in
from Boston etc. and that the social dances which came from Scotland only
included the Highland Reels such as the Scotch Four. No Country Dances
seem to have been done in Cape Breton until recently.

I had a cup of coffee before I wrote that quoted message above, and after I
sent it I wondered if my mind was going faster than my typing! Sorry it
wasn't clear.

- Kate

the Cape Breton connection

Message 6188 · Kate Dunlay or David Greenberg · 15 Jan 1997 17:09:34 · Top

>"Flowers of Edinburgh" - Mats
>Melin is teaching the dance part, and he has seven different hardshoe
>Scottish variants and a number of Cape Breton ones.
>
I'm wishing I had a transporter again.

- Kate D.

the Cape Breton connection

Message 6197 · Joseph Shelby · 15 Jan 1997 20:24:43 · Top

Terry Traub wrote:
>
> Huh? I thought that it was pretty well established in recent years
> that there's an old Scottish step dancing style that was very similar
> to modern Cape Breton step dancing. There's been some research into
> reconstructing this dancing. Reports of people's grandparents who see
> CB dancing comparing it to how their own grandparents did it, and so
> forth.
>
> Now someone's saying that the step dancing in Cape Breton is a
> recently developed thing? Quite a coincidence if it's so similar to
> old Scottish step dancing. Next they'll be saying the Cape Breton
> fiddle style is a recent made-up thing, coincidentally similar to
> remnants of the Scottish Highland styles.

no, that's not what i said.

there is a hard-sole stepping tradition in cape breton that does
survive. this tradition included solo step dances to familiar
highland tunes (including hard-sole variations of Tulloch Gorum
and Seann Truibhas), and the "circular reel" (the "Scotch Four") similar
to what the Fletts document as being from the western islands.

though this form does survive and is "what grandparents in
scotland remember from their childhood" (why they stopped teaching
the dances in the first place is the great unanswered question...)
--
to quote Maggie Moore's article:

You see, at the same time as the old Reels were taken over from
Scotland, there was a body of more formal solo step-dances, which
also went over with the early settlers. These include the 'Fling,' 'Sean
Truibhas,' 'Flowers of Edinburgh,' 'Tullochgorum,' 'Jackie Tar,' 'Irish
Washerwoman,' and 'Princess Royal.' These dances were taught by
the early dancing-masters, but their complexity and the requirement
to dance the steps in a prescribed order, meant that they had to be
learnt, and eventually fewer and fewer people danced them. Margaret
Gillis from South West Margaret is perhaps one of the few people in
Cape Breton who can still dance some of these old step-dances.

[...]

The relatively greater freedom of expression in choosing and dancing
steps, which was available in the context of the old Reels, became the
vehicle for solo dancing also, and as a result solo step-dancing in
Cape Breton today consists almost entirely of extemporised
strathspeys and reels.

[...]

By the 20th century, the old dancing-schools teaching the formal
step-dances had ceased, and most people learnt stepping in their
youth just from being exposed to it, hearing the music and not being
able to resist dancing to it. Some were taught by a parent or older
relative but many learnt simply by imitation, through watching a step
and keeping the "music," i.e. the rhythm of it in their heads, until
they
could practice and perfect it. This ability to learn intricate step-work
through imitation, I believe, is similar to learning music by ear rather
than from a written score.
--
>From Hamish Moore's liner notes to "Stepping on the Bridge":

In Scotland, there are many people who
remember their parents or grand-parents step-dancing, and there
are even some women who learnt to step-dance as children. They
have confirmed that the strathspey and reel steps danced in Cape
Breton are exactly the same as those they learnt in Scotland.
--
unfortunately, right now i can't recall where it was i read the
phrase "stepping to the music" (assuming i read it and didn't hear
it in an interview somewhere; it might have been in a natalie macmaster
album liner notes). the point was yes, the steps are similar to
the steps of the "formal dances", but they are also slightly different
(or were) due to the lack of formal training since the early part
of this century...

due to the increase in interest, and the increase in formal Cape
Breton style dance competitions, there is an increasing tendency
to standardise the steps back to the formal dance styles...
i personally do not think this is that good an idea, particularly
given the effects competition has had on modern highland and
irish dance...

joe
--
-------------------------------------------------------------------
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7401 Englewood Pl. #3 http://www.io.com/~acroyear
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the Cape Breton connection

Message 6203 · Kate Dunlay or David Greenberg · 15 Jan 1997 23:46:39 · Top

Re: Cape Breton stepdance
>the steps are similar to
>the steps of the "formal dances", but they are also slightly different
>(or were) due to the lack of formal training since the early part
>of this century...
>joe
Except that, as I noted, the choreographed dances seem to be more hornpipy,
not like the strathspey and reel steps. Well, like them from the point of
view that the steps are low and have taps and shuffles, but unlike them in
detail. Although I could be wrong about this. I was hoping somebody could
comment on it since I know Cape Breton stepdancing well, but not the old
choreographies.

>due to the increase in interest, and the increase in formal Cape
>Breton style dance competitions, there is an increasing tendency
>to standardise the steps back to the formal dance styles...
>i personally do not think this is that good an idea, particularly
>given the effects competition has had on modern highland and
>irish dance...
>
>joe
>
I agree that it is nice to be able to see people improvise the steps to the
music, and it is good that individual styles are appreciated.

- Kate D.

the Cape Breton connection

Message 6204 · Kate Dunlay or David Greenberg · 16 Jan 1997 01:05:28 · Top

>though this form does survive and is "what grandparents in
>scotland remember from their childhood" (why they stopped teaching
>the dances in the first place is the great unanswered question...)
>
Maybe there was not enough fiddle music going on at that time in Scotland.
For instance, when Feis Barra was started, the literature they produced
stated they had to bring in a fiddle teacher from elsewhere. Was this
widespread? Without musicians there could not have been a big enough core
of stepdancers to sustain the tradition.

- Kate D.

the Cape Breton connection

Message 6223 · D. Shaw · 17 Jan 1997 02:34:33 · Top

With all this talk of the revival of Cape Breton step dancing...

Malke Rosenfeld is teaching Cape Breton and other percussive dance styles in
the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina, with Mike Casey
providing the music (flute, dulcimer, mandolin, or guitar). The Cape Breton
class is Friday evenings, 7:15pm, at Jo Moore's studio in Cary. Contact me
privately if you'd like Malke's phone number. So far, I've "learned" the
reel and waltz basic steps.

AND

Lisa Minor is teaching Cape Breton step dancing in Atlanta, and possibly in
Columbia, SC.
I think David Knight is fiddling for this, when he can, so he'll have more
complete info. David?

Cheers,
Deborah

the Cape Breton connection

Message 6229 · David=Knight%ADMIN%COL · 17 Jan 1997 16:18:42 · Top

Lisa has taught some Cape Breton steps to SC dancers in Atlanta; I've
played for this group during intermissions at RSCDS Atlanta Branch socials.
(I think Andrew Smith, an SCD teacher in Atlanta and a subscriber, would
know the details.) Lisa has also demonstrated Cape Breton steps at contra
dance intermissions in Columbia to my fiddling, but so far, no classes in
Columbia.

As for its spread, at the past few dance (SCD, contra) functions I've been
to, I've had no trouble finding someone to do a bit of furtive step-trading
with me.

Deborah Shaw wrote:
"Lisa Miner is teaching Cape Breton step dancing in Atlanta, and possibly
in Columbia, SC. I think David Knight is fiddling for this, when he can,
so he'll have more complete info. David?"

David Knight
Columbia, SC, USA
<dak@who.net>

the Cape Breton connection

Message 6262 · Colleen Putt · 19 Jan 1997 02:02:55 · Top

Cape Breton waltz steps? I don't think I've ever seen those. Sounds
intriguing...

Cheers,
Colleen

the Cape Breton connection

Message 6208 · Anselm Lingnau · 16 Jan 1997 09:56:03 · Top

Joseph Shelby <acroyear@io.com> writes:

> [Hard-shoe step dancing] does survive and is "what grandparents in
> scotland remember from their childhood" (why they stopped teaching
> the dances in the first place is the great unanswered question...)

and (quoting Maggie Moore):

> By the 20th century, the old dancing-schools teaching the formal
> step-dances had ceased, and most people learnt stepping in their
> youth just from being exposed to it, hearing the music and not being
> able to resist dancing to it.

In my own opinion, this is exactly the answer to your Great Unanswered
Question above. Recall that, in the last century, Scottish dancing --
country dancing, Highland dancing *and* step dancing -- was taught by
itinerant dancing teachers. Later on, until WWI or so, the influence of
`modern', American-style dances gradually drove the `dancies' out of
business. At the same time, highland dancing was taken over by the
Highland Games crowd and was remodelled into today's competitive sport;
country dancing went into a lapse until Jean Milligan & friends went for
it in a big way during the 1920s -- and the problem with step dancing
seems to have been that it lacked a Miss Milligan. From the point of
view of carrying it across the barren years, that is; others may well
argue that the last thing something as individualist as step dancing
needs is a Great Unification of Styles.

With the importance of Scottish fiddling in the village pub dwindling
in favour of jazz, swing, and rock'n'roll by radio, it is hardly a big
surprise that the traditional way of learning to dance `by osmosis', as
mentioned by Maggie Moore, fell by the wayside. Consider also the
contrast between the old-fashioned Highland teuchter grandparents' step
dancing and modern, urbane, trendy stuff like the jive and hustle. All
of this together seems a reasonable hypothesis to explain why Scottish
step dancing is a specialist topic nowadays, rather than something
done in pubs all over the Highlands (let alone the world).

Anselm
--
Anselm Lingnau ......................... lingnau@tm.informatik.uni-frankfurt.de
To design a successful computer language nowadays, you have to think about how
people think. Language design is 10% science and 90% psychology. -- Larry Wall

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