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A Dance Called America

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  • ...

    Ian Brockbank Dec. 4, 2006, 12:30 p.m. (Message 47263)

    Hi All,
     
    I've just had this email.
     
    ===========
    Hello  I wonder if you could help me,
             A friend and l have found that the Runrig song A dance called
    America was
             an actual dance supposedly danced on the Isle of Skye during
    the times of
             the clearances.
             we would be greatful if you would be able to help us, we would
    like to know
             the steps to this dance but have so far be unsuccessful in
    tracing them.
             lf you or someone you may know of have knowledge of these
    steps, then 
             we would be greatful to have them .
    ===========
     
    Now I suspect this is an urban myth, but I don't know for certain.
    Can anyone answer categorically?
     
    Thanks,
    
    Ian Brockbank 
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    xxx@xxxxxxxxxxxxx.xxx 
    http://www.scottishdance.net/
  • ...

    Anselm Lingnau Dec. 4, 2006, 1:46 p.m. (Message 47271, in reply to message 47263)

    Ian Brockbank wrote:
    
    > Now I suspect this is an urban myth, but I don't know for certain.
    > Can anyone answer categorically?
    
    To get to the bottom of this you have to refer to James Boswell's _Journal of 
    a Tour to the Hebrides_ (where he went in 1773 with the famous Dr Johnson). 
    This was published in 1785, and says in the entry for Saturday, the 2nd of 
    October, 1773:
    
    | In the evening the company danced as usual. We performed, with much
    | activity, a dance which, I suppose, the emigration from Sky has occasioned.
    | They call it ‘America’. Each of the couples, after the common involutions
    | and evolutions, successively whirls round in a circle, till all are in
    | motion; and the dance seems intended to shew how emigration catches, till a
    | whole neighbourhood is set afloat.
    
    This occurred when Boswell and Dr Johnson stayed in the house of one Sir 
    Alexander MacDonald in Armadale (in the south of the Isle of Skye). There is 
    a very nice web-based edition of Boswell's _Journal_ available from 
    http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/b/boswell/james/b74t/ . _Traditional 
    Dancing in Scotland_, by Flett and Flett, mentions this and cites (on p.155) 
    an apparently more extensive version of the _Journal_ explaining the dance 
    like this:
    
    | A brisk reel is played. The first couple begin, and each sets to one--then
    | each to another--then as they set to the next couple, the second and third
    | couples are setting; and so it goes on till al are set a-going, setting
    | and wheeling round each other, while each is making the tour of all in the
    | dance.
    
    >From the modern point of view Boswell's description is evidently somewhat 
    lacking in detail, but I think that it is really the spirit of the dance that 
    counts, and so in true RSCDS tradition one should make up the movements such 
    that they suit the spirit, whatever the historical precedent :^)
    
    Anselm
    -- 
    Anselm Lingnau, Frankfurt, Germany ..................... xxxxxx@xxxxxxxxxx.xxx
    Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are
    wonderful.                                                      -- Ann Landers
  • ...

    Karin Ingram Dec. 4, 2006, 1:48 p.m. (Message 47272, in reply to message 47263)

    I've just phoned Rory Macdonald of Runrig, who wrote "Dance called America"
    and he confirmed what I already knew, that the idea for the song came from
    the written description of the dance to be found in Johnson and Boswell's
    account of their trip to the Hebrides in 1773.  A further description of the
    dance (but no actual steps) can be found in Fletts' book on page 155:
    "We made out five country squares without sitting down: and then we
    performed with much alacrity a dance which I suppose the emigration from
    Skye has occasioned.  They call it 'America'.  A brisk reel is played.  The
    first couple begin, and each sets to one - then each to another - then as
    they set to the next couple, the second and third couples are setting; and
    so it goes on till all are set a-going, setting and wheeling round each
    other, while each is making the tour of all in the dance.  It shows how
    emigration catches till all are set afloat...'
    As Rory says, the dance as seen would have been performed by the "toffs" in
    Armadale.  He's interested to know if anyone ever finds the actual steps -
    but advises you strongly never to attempt to dance it amongst the common
    people of the Hebrides!
    Best wishes,
    Karin Ingram
    (Editor "Dance On!")
    Scottish Borders

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