|Volume 32 #3||November/December 2015|
Here it is November already. The Fall Dance is now just a glorious memory, the rains have started, we've just changed the clocks, and are well into dancing season. How brilliant for us that we have such a delightful activity as Scottish Country Dancing that we can do during the short, cold days of winter (as well as the rest of the year). A hearty welcome to all the new dancers that have joined our ranks this fall, and a hearty welcome back to all the dancers returning for yet another year! Near and far, we're so happy to have you as part of our family.
The Fall Dance was excellent! Thanks to all who helped out with all the little bits that make for a good dance – those who came early to help set up, make tea, provide refreshments, take money at the door, etc. and those who stayed late to help clean up and restore the studio to its usual self. Thanks especially to the musicians, Guinevere Saenger and Maggie Hannahs, and our soundman, Patrick Hogan. Live music adds so much and makes it an occasion, and the energy they added to the dancing was wonderful to see and hear.
Looking ahead, we have the "Werk Off Yer Turkey" dance class. This is held the Friday after Thanksgiving (November 27th) at the usual Friday class time (7:30 to 9:00pm at Columbia Dance). It's a just-for-fun social class focusing on food-related dances – something active to do between old movies or football games and turkey sandwiches. Ditch the relatives or bring them – we'll accommodate whoever shows up.
In late December, Sunday, the 27th at 2:00pm to be exact, we have the Betwixt and Between dance and ceilidh – an afternoon "tea dance" so that you can get home before dark. We will do some dancing, as well as entertain each other with ‘ceilidh acts'. Dust off your hidden talents and share them with the group – skits, recitations of poetry, readings, singing, music, dancing, or anything else you can think of to entertain your friends. We're often surprised by the depth of talent among our own Scottish Country Dancers, and it's always a fun time.
Other events will likely show up early in the coming year, but out on the horizon we have our Seventh Annual Dinner Dance. Put this on your calendar now, as it is going to be an exciting event – Saturday, April 23rd. The Dinner Dance is our annual "big deal" and requires a lot more help than any of the lesser dances. And there are lots of ways to help. You could, for example, simply open your home to an out of town dancer who needs a bed for the night. You could go even further, and offer to talk to dancers in our group, find out who has a guest room available, and find beds for all of the expected out of town guests. Linda Lindley, AKA the Awesome Organizer, is the Dance Chair for this event. Let her know or ask her how you can help. I'm pretty sure there's enough work for everyone.
The next Scottish Country Dancer newsletter doesn't come out until January, so even though it's a little early, Happy Holidays to All, Happy Haggis, and Happy Dancing!
Classes have begun again, and there are new faces in the classes along with, er, the faces of already friends! I enjoy the renewed instruction in the basics of Scottish Country Dance -- the footwork, the handing, the basic figures and the classic basic dances -- as much as I do the crispness in the Fall air. And, yes, it "takes me back"...
I still remember being introduced to turnout. Why, I asked, do we have to maintain such an unnatural position of the foot? The answer I remember was, "because it looks nice." I chafed at the thought that I had to walk around like a duck because someone way-back-when thought it looked nice.
Since then, I've learned that looks nice was the Short Answer. The real answer has its basis in the physics of motion and the limitations of anatomy. I think the French dance masters realized that a foot pointed in the direction of travel is less likely to trip, roll, or injure the ankle than if it were perpendicular to that line of travel. The turnout is the best compromise position, keeping the feet and legs ready for safe movement in any direction.
One of the things I most appreciate about Scottish Country Dancing is the support we give to and receive from "the set". We are almost continually supporting the dancers around us, and one of the most tangible forms of that support is in the "taking of hands". New dancers are admonished, when taking hands round in a circle, to join the hands at the shoulder height of the shorter person, and to keep the elbows down, thus forming the famous W shape. And, again, the Short Answer to the inevitable why? is "because it looks nice".
So, try this experiment: take hands round in a circle, and place your joined hands as low as you can, forming the infamous V. Now, without adjusting your feet, everyone lean back. What happens to your hands? Instantly, the hands come up to a position between the shoulders of adjacent dancers to firm up the support. When the hands are down low, there is simply no support from dancer to dancer. If a dancer were to slip in such a situation, he would be three quarters of the way to the floor before the set could "take up the slack" and save him. And the firm W shape acts as a spring or "shock absorber", protecting the shoulders of the dancers from the sudden yank of a save.
As a beginner I was often puzzled when the teacher instructed us (when, for example, turning our partner) to take hands in a "shake-hand" hold, and then would demonstrate by taking a hold that was not the way I (a man) shook hands! Instead of grasping the full palm (the "metacarpals", according to Google) in a potentially bone-crushing grip (very manly), the instructor grasped the student's fingers between her fingers and her palm, as the student grasped hers similarly.
The result is a firm grip, with two advantages over the "manly" hand-shake. First, it is almost impossible to hurt the other dancer's hand by squeezing too hard -- unless someone has long fingernails (but that would only be a flesh wound -- no bone injury). The other advantage to this gentler hand-shake hold is that the wrist is not "locked". Try taking the Manly Grip, and then raising your hands to shoulder level -- but be careful! Doing it too quickly, you will either break the grip or break a wrist. Personally, I find the Manly Grip to be very uncomfortable at anything much higher than my waist-band.
(Later, I realized most of the teachers I had come into contact with, and, indeed, the dual founders of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, were women. And this gentler form, I had observed over the years, was very much the way women would shake hands. That helpd me understand the nomenclature puzzle.)
So, the next time someone asks you why we do something a certain way, tell them ... "It looks nice." -- and wink!
Though this was a small, local dance, I think this is was one of the better dances, in all dances across the years, that I've attended in quite some time. The theme this year was "Celebrate The Seasons" which included all four seasons. This gave folks the opportunity and the freedom to use whatever they had, and wherever their heads and hearts were, in terms of a costume. Of course, being rather a creative bunch, there were rather a number of these either cute or striking or amusing.
I thought the program, created this year by John Shaw, was particularly good as it was a vehicle that enhanced the enjoyment of dance and didn't consume so much brain power that folks were unable to enjoy the social interactions during each dance. All of the dances were well designed and flowed together smoothly. I suspect that some of us had said when encouraging a fellow dancer, "The music will tell us what to do." Though that's not always true, many of the dances on this program have distinctive tune sets that are memorable in and of themselves and do just that, help us remember the different figures and when they occur in sequence.
It was also quite a treat to have Guinevere Saenger from Seattle on piano and "our own" Maggie Hannahs on fiddle. Their youthful energy and creativity and musical influences gave a nice sonic flavor to our activities. Their music was paced just right and their energy, joy, and enthusiasm were infectious.
Thanks to everyone who worked so dilligently and creatively to make this such a memorable evening.
This year's trip to Redmond for the 19th annual Bend Workshop and Ball was a little different from most years. Because of either prior commitments or injuries, most of the dancers who usually make the trek south were unable to go. When the dust finally settled, three dancers left behind the cold gloom of Portland for the sunny skies of central Oregon. I might add that those three (Martin MacKenzie, Liza Halpenny, and me) are also fearless photographers so the trip probably took longer than it would have for most groups as we made numerous stops along the way whenever something in the scenery that was flashing by caught our eye.
But even with those stops, we still had time to stop in Madras for a quick pumpkin pie blizzard at Dairy Queen before heading to Smith Rock for some hiking and more picture taking. Once at Smith Rock, we split up with plans to meet back at the car in a few hours. We should have known that none of us would be back in time and dusk settled over the park before we met back at the car and continued on our way to Redmond to meet our host, Fred Kowolowski. Fred has been gracious enough to host the dancers from Portland and Southwest Washington over the years and we're grateful to him for once again allowing us to partake of his hospitality. After dinner and a good night's sleep, we were ready to do some serious dancing.
Upon arriving at the hall, we spent some time catching up with friends and meeting some of the new dancers who were brave enough to attend a workshop after only a few months of classes. This year's workshop teacher was Chuck Ryer from Eugene. He taught a combination of well known devisors (such as Drewry or Muriel Johnstone) as well as some of his own dances and one devised by a student of his. The two morning sessions went by rapidly, and before we knew it, it was time for the lunch break.
I had intended to take a walk at lunch, but after a quick sashay around the block, in what had become a very frigid afternoon, I decided that maybe staying inside wasn't so bad after all. After lunch, there was another session of dancing followed by the ball walk through. As usual, the ball program was made up of favorite dances and ensured a fun evening was in store for us all.
The three of us made our way back to Fred's at various times, with some of us taking the long way back by way of 7-11 and a pumpkin spice cappuccino. There was time to relax for a few hours before getting ready for the ball. It's amazing how quickly those few hours go by, and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the hall.
Streamers and other decorations had been added to the creative acrylic painting done by Jennifer Seelye's daughter portraying a scene from H. G. Wells' Time Machine, which went perfectly with the theme of Scottish Country Dance through the ages. Dances from the 1700's (Maxwell's Rant, Delvine Side, and The Montgomeries' Rant) were danced along with those from the 1960's, 1980's, and 1990's (Pelorus Jack, The Clansman, and EH2 7AF), along with a dance by a local devisor. The music was provided by A Scottish Heart and they did an excellent job of maintaining the lively atmosphere and keeping us all on our toes (where all Scottish Country Dancers know they should be).
All too soon, the ball was over and it was time to head back home. We said our goodbyes there because most of us were too tired to attend the afterparty. Instead, we decided to get up at sunrise and return to Smith Rock for sunrise pictures.
It had been cloudy all day Saturday, but Sunday morning was crisp and clear. The three of us stole out of the house around 6:30 and drove to the park. A few miles from Smith Rock a fog bank loomed and completely enveloped the park. At first I was disappointed, but it didn't take long for us to see the possibilities of the light breaking through the fog and of capturing the towering rocks wreathed in and almost hidden by the fog. After more than an hour of scampering around the rocks and taking pictures, we made our way back to Redmond. As soon as we left the park, it was clear blue sky with no hint of fog anywhere, except for the foggy rainbow that followed us. After a quick breakfast, it was time to head out and back on the road to reality, with a few more stops for pictures along the way.
I have my first article published in the RSCDS Scottish Country Dancer magazine, in the October 2015 edition. Headquarters launched the RSCDS Branch Secretaries Facebook Group in March 2015, in order to enhance communication worldwide with and amongst the branches. Branch secretaries are getting to know one another and are sharing ideas. Digital Marketing Communications Officer Mike Greenwood is responsive to topics that involve HQ. Communication is faster than individual or group emails. Any branch representatives are invited to join the group. The moderators, Mike and I, who lead more on process and less on content, post topics and ask questions in order to stimulate discussion. Members provide the content and are free to post topics for discussion.
Related to our local branch, I researched the complete list of secretaries for the Branch and the earlier Vancouver USA Scottish Country Dancers, going back to 1984, with Fred van Nus serving as the first secretary. The RSCDS Southwest Washington State Branch was formed October 22, 2008, with Gail Esparza serving as the first Branch secretary.
To Whom Do You Say Thanks? Observations from McDonald Observatory On a Clear Night Filled With Gems Beyond Compare And a Melody In My Heart Paul D. Hemenway, Austin SCDS, Texas To whom do you say thanks? Sara, my daughter. She made me do it. I came to The Dance in middle life, full of trepidation, expectations, no knowledge. I came to The Dance aged in mind and spirit. I came to The Dance full of ancient memories of growing up - feelings, strange then because they were new, more familiar now, but strangely new, freshly awakened somehow. To whom do you say thanks? Torf and Sarah. My first teachers Circle round and I'll show you skip change. Circle round and I'll show you potty baas.* Circle round and I'll show you strath spay. Circle round and stretch - warm up - walk to the music. Circle round and I'll show you about legs with no knees. Circle round and I'll show you foot positions, please. Circle round and I'll show you a million trillion things of which The Dance is made, but not THE DANCE yet. To whom do you say thanks? To the dancers who helped with the first figures. Line up and bow and curtsey. Line up and turn by the right hand. Line up and four-hands round and back. How soon they become your friends! To whom do you say thanks? To everyone who put up with a misplaced reel. How do I bungle a reel? Let me count the ways. Across the dance instead of down, I thought it was a mirror. First or second place goes WHERE? Up the dance you clown! But what you learn is: This is FUN, mistakes will teach you soon and well. The second repetition's there to tell THIS Dance is won. To whom do you say thanks? To every partner, first and last. They ARE The Dance. So comes the time bow and curtsey. Your partner and you, one unto the Universe. She is the only being in creation. So comes the time dance down and up, hold hands, make mischief with your eyes, or love. Not a contact sport? Try a mis-turned reel. So comes the time the figures and the footwork disappear into The Dance! So comes the time PANIC What comes NEXT?! but everyone to help. So comes the time we need to be fourth couple! So comes the time: I Love THIS DANCE: A Piece of Cake! To whom do you say thanks? The musicians: The music tells you what to do! To whom do you say thanks? THE MUSE, lest The Dance we lose. * Pas de basque as I imagined its spelling on hearing it at my first class. Poems aren't supposed to have footnotes but what can you expect from a beginner? Sub Editor's Observation: To whom do we say thanks? The teachers, who for love, not profit, become as prophets new-inspired each Wednesday night. To keep the Muse alive
After a week of playing "Who's in and who's out?," the small but jolly group of Holly Gibson, Martin MacKenzie, and Liza Halpenny headed to Redmond, OR for the annual High Desert Workshop and Ball. A road trip with dance friends is always enjoyable, especially since we get to dance in the middle.
Through the mountains and pumice plains we headed, stopping for pumpkin pie Blizzard fortification in Madras. We had planned our trip to take photographic advantage of the late afternoon light in Smith Rock State Park -- which was magical. This year, for the first time, I decided to hike to the top of Smith Rock, something I had avoided in previous years so that I would not be too tired to dance the next day. Misery Ridge Trail lived up to its name, and at one point I sat down and told Martin to go on without me, that I was going back down. But eventually I rallied and made it to the top, to be rewarded with spectacular valley views in all directions. On our way down the other side we passed Holly, who had taken the loop in the opposite direction, at a much higher speed.
That night, as always, we were excellently hosted at the home of Fred Kowoloski. Fred is an accomplished dancer and a faithful friend, who makes the effort to attend many of our dances here in Vancouver. Saturday morning, after a hearty breakfast, we made our way to the Redmond Grange for an enjoyable and educational day of dancing instruction by Chuck Ryer of Eugene, OR. The High Desert group is super friendly and helpful and welcoming. Spending a day with them is a pleasure.
After a late afternoon break to rest our gams, we were back at the dancing for the evening ball. A Scottish Heart lifted our hearts with wonderful music. A raffle of clever, artistic, and alcoholic items kept folks on the edge of their seats. There was more delicious food. And friends, good friends and laughter.
Martin and Holly and I got up pre-dawn on Sunday to head back to Smith Rock for sunrise photos. Instead the place was socked in with fog, which gave us a different kind of magical fun. Then goodbye to Fred and back over the mountains to home, jiggity jig.
This weekend, the High Desert Workshop and Ball, is something I would recommend to all Vancouver/Portland dancers. It is low key and low cost, an enjoyable drive, and full of wonderful people. Put it on your calendar for the first weekend in October 2016.
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