|Volume 36 #2||September/October 2019|
Wow, what a summer! I think it started with the Summer Picnic, but so much has happened since, it's kinda fuzzy. Thrice, we Danced in the Park -- Esther Short Park, that is, in Vancouver -- during the weekend Farmer's Market; we attracted a bit of attention, and even a few intrepid souls who joined in some easy dances taught by Liza. Quite a number of our members attended the week-long TAC Summer School, held this year in Calgary, Canada, while others headed off on other travels, near and far. And then there's the whole gardens thing that keeps a lot of people scrambling around looking for people to take their zucchini.
Classes are Starting!
Our classes start up in September, and this year, all our classes will be held at Columbia Dance Center, in Vancouver.
And Dances are Coming!
Planning for our Fall Dance (October 19th) is proceeding! We have the musicians, the venue, and the program. All we need now are ... dancers! Check out the web page for the latest details, but let me say, we are very excited to have Lisa Scott, Leslie Hirsch, and Erik Weberg as our musicians this year.
Our other big events are in earlier stages of planning, though we do have the dates and venues, so be sure to save the dates, and keep checking the website for more details
So, "ghillie up", pardner (that's Calgary talk), and we'll see you all on the dance floor!
Though this year has been joyous and fun for many of us, please note that two from Scottish dance community have passed away just recently.
Isaac Wilder passed away August 5, 2019. He danced with us for a number of years and he has children in the local area. He came to the Portland Highland Games as he wanted to see some of us and to receive some cancer treatments. I personally wish that more had come to see him as he was disappointed that there were so few. You can see him in action in one of our videos on our website at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7k9n1pX1Og
Lora (Shuhart) Allred also danced with us and passed away June 15, 2019. Her obituary can be read at
http://rscds-swws.org/ScdLoraAllredObituary.pdf I did not know her as well as others might have, however I note that she was very accomplished, well travelled, and generous to many good causes.
I would also encourage the readers to remember others who are still around but don't dance anymore and if possible, keep in contact with them. They are still our friends.
As difficult as it is to believe, another TAC Summer School has come and gone. This year's fabulous foray into dancing fever was held at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. The Portland and SW Washington branches were well represented, with 14 dancers making the trek to Calgary. Mount Royal is a small campus that can be circumnavigated in about 20 minutes, but with a core building that contains so many hallways, corridors, secret passages, dungeons (okay, maybe not dungeons), twists and turns that I wouldn't be surprised if some hapless freshman from 2016 wasn't still wandering around looking for an English Comp class. All meals, except Saturday's banquet, classes, and evening activities were held in this rabbit warren of a complex. The weather was spectacular, except for a surprise thunderstorm that caught some people hugging trees in an effort to keep dry, and most of us were able to take the bus into downtown Calgary to enjoy the sights.
The core teachers for the week were Linda Henderson, Jimmie Hill, Geoffrey Selling, and Moira Korus with music provided by Reel of Seven (or in this case eight since there was an extra fiddler). There is always a theme night and this year it was, of course, the Calgary Stampede. An anonymous donor gave over 200 cowboy hats of various styles and colors, including some by Stetson, that were handed out and, for the most part, worn all evening by the dancers. The liveliest dance of the night was The Packhorse Rant, a round the room dance that included the theme music fo the TV show Rawhide. Wednesday night featured a line dancing class and on Thursday there was a ceilidh with a variety of showcased talent, including an act with 12 of the Portland//Washington dancers. There was a rumor their act consisted of a dancing hippo and crocodile surrounded by Highland Schottisching teapots, cookies, cakes, and the like, but that may or may not be true. I think there's sufficient evidence to convict the participants here, ~ The Editor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaeRJ2FQUaQ
Saturday evening was fabulous and included being piped over from the banquet hall to the dance by Ross Barker. Sunday morning featured a pancake breakfast and then it was time to pack up, turn in the keys (which provided their own entertainment at the first of the week), and say our goodbyes. Six of us made our way home via Banff and various parks in British Columbia before returning to real, as opposed to reel, life. Next year's summer school will again be at Mount Royal and now is a great time to start planning your trip.
Coincident with Scottish dance classes starting one year ago, I authored an article titled How to Learn Scottish Dancing in 20 hours and applied the four steps to learn the Scottish dancing skill. The article explores focused practice to efficiently learn Scottish dancing, and states the 5 footwork steps and 25 Frequent Formations which were gathered from other sources.
I was curious to validate: are the stated 25 Frequent Formations observed to be frequently danced formations? I noted which steps and formations were practised during each of 35 classes for beginning dancers during the past year. The chart displays the sorted percentage of the classes that each formation was practised in a dance. A formation practice was recorded independent of whether it was danced in quick time versus strathspey rhythm, or variations like a half formation versus the full formation, two-couples versus three- couples, etc.
The sorted formations mostly agreed with the displayed 25 Frequent Formations. All formations were practised, but two other formations were practised slightly more frequently. Retaining the original group of 25 Frequent formations, another group of 11 Less-Frequent Formations were practised in the classes.
It is desirable to practise the 5 footwork steps accurately to avoid forming bad habits which are challenging to unlearn. Learning the feeling for the steps (and other skills like handing, phrasing, covering) is primarily processed by the brain's emotional side. We want to learn the "muscle memory" feeling for a skill while accurately practising the skill.
We expect dancing skills to improve with practice time. Practising familiar dances and teaching new dances with the aim to introduce dancers to the frequent formations provides focused practice. Teaching all new dances for an upcoming Scottish dance program can reduce the practice time with less dancing during the class. We can gain more practice by teaching a smaller proportion of new dances combined with repeating dances taught in earlier classes. The time to teach and practise one new dance is comparable to the time to brief and practise two familiar dances.
I authored a related paper titled How to Learn Square Dancing in 20 hours. Square dancing classes teach dancers 48 Basic calls plus 19 Mainstream calls that are components of a square dance tip in the Mainstream program. (We can later learn an additional 28 calls in the Plus program.) Mainstream square dancers learn to immediately visualize and move through the path from beginning to ending position after hearing the next call a split-second earlier, selected from the repertoire of 67 calls. Dancers travel the call patterns by walking, without learning footwork steps like in Scottish dancing. Square and Scottish dancers need to learn sufficient phrasing and covering skills. Beginning dancers tend to have tunnel vision and they gradually develop an awareness of their position relative to the other dancers. Dancing in a square set has the feature that each dancer has a diagonally opposite dancer who dances a symmetric path. Experienced dancers can mirror their opposite dancer to synchronize matching movements and clearly define the pattern of the dance, and to help with recovery. See Mirroring Our Opposite Square Dancer.
A pictorial guide to our 2019 trip to the Canadian Maritimes, Nova Scotia (with Cape Breton), New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.
Evenings in Mabou, at the Red Show Pub and The West Mabou Hall:
And, of course, the photos themselves:
I guess I know so little of Robert Service! Though I'm familiar with his poems about the Yukon (e.g., The Cremation of Sam MacGee, and The Shooting of Dangerous Dan MacGrew), I didn't realize he wrote a lot of other poems, many about his ancestral home, Scotland.
Here is a fun piece about an unusual event at a St Andrew's Ball -- it actually mentions strathspeys and reels!
You can check out this poem where I found it:
The Ballad of How MacPherson Held the Floor
Said President MacConnachie to Treasurer MacCall:
"We ought to have a piper for our next Saint Andrew's Ball.
Yon squakin' saxophone gives me the syncopated gripes.
I'm sick of jazz, I want to hear the skirling of the pipes."
"Alas! it's true," said Tam MacCall. "The young folk of to-day
Are fox-trot mad and dinna ken a reel from Strathspey.
Now, what we want's a kiltie lad, primed up wi' mountain dew,
To strut the floor at supper time, and play a lilt or two.
In all the North there's only one; of him I've heard them speak:
His name is Jock MacPherson, and he lives on Boulder Creek;
An old-time hard-rock miner, and a wild and wastrel loon,
Who spends his nights in glory, playing pibrochs to the moon.
I'll seek him out; beyond a doubt on next Saint Andrew's night
We'll proudly hear the pipes to cheer and charm our appetite.
Oh lads were neat and lassies sweet who graced Saint Andrew's Ball;
But there was none so full of fun as Treasurer MacCall.
And as Maloney's rag-time band struck up the newest hit,
He smiled a smile behind his hand, and chuckled: "Wait a bit."
And so with many a Celtic snort, with malice in his eye,
He watched the merry crowd cavort, till supper time drew nigh.
Then gleefully he seemed to steal, and sought the Nugget Bar,
Wherein there sat a tartaned chiel, as lonely as a star;
A huge and hairy Highlandman as hearty as a breeze,
A glass of whisky in his hand, his bag-pipes on his knees.
"Drink down your doch and doris, Jock," cried Treasurer MacCall;
"The time is ripe to up and pipe; they wait you in the hall.
Gird up your loins and grit your teeth, and here's a pint of hooch
To mind you of your native heath - jist pit it in your pooch.
Play on and on for all you're worth; you'll shame us if you stop.
Remember you're of Scottish birth - keep piping till you drop.
Aye, though a bunch of Willie boys should bluster and implore,
For the glory of the Highlands, lad, you've got to hold the floor."
The dancers were at supper, and the tables groaned with cheer,
When President MacConnachie exclaimed: "What do I hear?
Methinks it's like a chanter, and its coming from the hall."
"It's Jock MacPherson tuning up," cried Treasurer MacCall.
So up they jumped with shouts of glee, and gaily hurried forth.
Said they: "We never thought to see a piper in the North."
Aye, all the lads and lassies braw went buzzing out like bees,
And Jock MacPherson there they saw, with red and rugged knees.
Full six foot four he strode the floor, a grizzled son of Skye,
With glory in his whiskers and with whisky in his eye.
With skelping stride and Scottish pride he towered above them all:
"And is he no' a bonny sight?" said Treasurer MacCall.
While President MacConnachie was fairly daft with glee,
And there was jubilation in the Scottish Commy-tee.
But the dancers seemed uncertain, and they signified their doubt,
By dashing back to eat as fast as they had darted out.
And someone raised the question 'twixt the coffee and the cakes:
"Does the Piper walk to get away from all the noise he makes?"
Then reinforced with fancy food they slowly trickled forth,
And watching in patronizing mood the Piper of the North.
Proud, proud was Jock MacPherson, as he made his bag-pipes skirl,
And he set his sporran swinging, and he gave his kilts a whirl.
And President MacConnachie was jumping like a flea,
And there was joy and rapture in the Scottish Commy-tee.
"Jist let them have their saxophones wi' constipated squall;
We're having Heaven's music now," said Treasurer MacCall.
But the dancers waxed impatient, and they rather seemed to fret
For Maloney and the jazz of his Hibernian Quartette.
Yet little recked the Piper, as he swung with head on high,
Lamenting with MacCrimmon on the heather hills of Skye.
With Highland passion in his heart he held the centre floor;
Aye, Jock MacPherson played as he had never played before.
Maloney's Irish melodists were sitting in their place,
And as Maloney waited, there was wonder in his face.
'Twas sure the gorgeous music - Golly! wouldn't it be grand
If he could get MacPherson as a member of his band?
But the dancers moped and mumbled, as around the room they sat:
"We paid to dance," they grumbled; "But we cannot dance to that.
Of course we're not denying that it's really splendid stuff;
But it's mighty satisfying - don't you think we've had enough?"
"You've raised a pretty problem," answered Treasurer MacCall;
"For on Saint Andrew's Night, ye ken, the Piper rules the Ball."
Said President MacConnachie: "You've said a solemn thing.
Tradition holds him sacred, and he's got to have his fling.
But soon, no doubt, he'll weary out. Have patience; bide a wee."
"That's right. Respect the Piper," said the Scottish Commy-tee.
And so MacPherson stalked the floor, and fast the moments flew,
Till half an hour went past, as irritation grew and grew.
Then the dancers held a council, and with faces fiercely set,
They hailed Maloney, heading his Hibernian Quartette:
"It's long enough, we've waited. Come on, Mike, play up the Blues."
And Maloney hesitated, but he didn't dare refuse.
So banjo and piano, and guitar and saxophone
Contended with the shrilling of the chanter and the drone;
And the women's ears were muffled, so infernal was the din,
But MacPherson was unruffled, for he knew that he would win.
Then two bright boys jazzed round him, and they sought to play the clown,
But MacPherson jolted sideways, and the Sassenachs went down.
And as if it was a signal, with a wild and angry roar,
The gates of wrath were riven - yet MacPherson held the floor.
Aye, amid the rising tumult, still he strode with head on high,
With ribbands gaily streaming, yet with battle in his eye.
Amid the storm that gathered, still he stalked with Highland pride,
While President and Treasurer sprang bravely to his side.
And with ire and indignation that was glorious to see,
Around him in a body ringed the Scottish Commy-tee.
Their teeth were clenched with fury; their eyes with anger blazed:
"Ye manna touch the Piper," was the slogan that they raised.
Then blows were struck, and men went down; yet 'mid the rising fray
MacPherson towered in triumph - and he never ceased to play.
Alas! his faithful followers were but a gallant few,
And faced defeat, although they fought with all the skill they knew.
For President MacConnachie was seen to slip and fall,
And o'er his prostrate body stumbled Treasurer MacCall.
And as their foes with triumph roared, and leagured them about,
It looked as if their little band would soon be counted out.
For eyes were black and noses red, yet on that field of gore,
As resolute as Highland rock - MacPherson held the floor.
Maloney watched the battle, and his brows were bleakly set,
While with him paused and panted his Hibernian Quartette.
For sure it is an evil spite, and breaking to the heart,
For Irishman to watch a fight and not be taking part.
Then suddenly on high he soared, and tightened up his belt:
"And shall we see them crush," he roared, "a brother and a Celt?
A fellow artiste needs our aid. Come on, boys, take a hand."
Then down into the mle dashed Maloney and his band.
Now though it was Saint Andrew's Ball, yet men of every race,
That bow before the Great God Jazz were gathered in that place.
Yea, there were those who grunt: "Ya! Ya!" and those who squeak: "We! We!"
Likewise Dutch, Dago, Swede and Finn, Polack and Portugee.
Yet like ripe grain before the gale that national hotch-potch
Went down before the fury of the Irish and the Scotch.
Aye, though they closed their gaping ranks and rallied to the fray,
To the Shamrock and the Thistle went the glory of the day.
You should have seen the carnage in the drooling light of dawn,
Yet 'mid the scene of slaughter Jock MacPherson playing on.
Though all lay low about him, yet he held his head on high,
And piped as if he stood upon the caller crags of Skye.
His face was grim as granite, and no favour did he ask,
Though weary were his mighty lungs and empty was his flask.
And when a fallen foe wailed out: "Say! when will you have done?"
MacPherson grinned and answered: "Hoots! She's only ha'f begun."
Aye, though his hands were bloody, and his knees were gay with gore,
A Grampian of Highland pride - MacPherson held the floor.
And still in Yukon valleys where the silent peaks look down,
They tell of how the Piper was invited up to town,
And he went in kilted glory, and he piped before them all,
But wouldn't stop his piping till he busted up the Ball.
Of that Homeric scrap they speak, and how the fight went on,
With sally and with rally till the breaking of the dawn.
And how the Piper towered like a rock amid the fray,
And the battle surged about him, but he never ceased to play.
Aye, by the lonely camp-fires, still they tell the story o'er-
How the Sassenach was vanquished and - MacPherson held the floor.
Robert William Service
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