Get Ready to Celebrate 50 Years!

The RSCDS Twin Cities Branch will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in 2025! We are working on planning a series of special events and activities to mark this milestone. Keep an eye on our semicentennial web page for details as they become available.

Meanwhile, mark your calendars now for our 50th Anniversary Ball on April 26th, 2025 at 301 on Main in Minneapolis. We are excited to be featuring fiddler Alistair McC from Ayr, Scotland, along with the inimitable Tom Pixton, from the Boston area, on piano and accordion.

Remembering Roberta Williams: from the archives

Sadly, we’ve recently had to add branch member and teacher Roberta Williams to the “In Memoriam” page of this website. As a member of the RSCDS Branch for almost 50 years, Roberta had a huge impact on the group. Here are a couple of items about her from the branch archives.

From a 2016 interview with Roberta Williams:
How did you get started with Scottish Country Dancing?
“Well I have Scottish ancestry so I was interested to explore something about that. And I had a friend who was interested in learning to play the bagpipes and he said ‘well there’s a group meeting at the University… I believe they dance so that would be something for you and maybe I could get a contact for playing the bagpipes’. So we went over to the university…and as it turned out, he found out nothing, I guess, and then he left part way through the evening. I looked up and he was gone, but I stayed…” It turned out to be a dance group run by Ann Tibor, with no bagpipes. The friend left part way through the evening and never took up piping, but Roberta stayed to dance kept dancing for another forty years! [Read the transcript of the full interview with Roberta, and other founding members Sandy and John White]

From the Blue Ribbon newsletter, v. 18 n. 3, 1993:
Roberta began Scottish country dancing in [the early 1970s]. Encouraged by certified teachers Bill Young and Sandy White, she received her full certification in 1977 with Miss Milligan as an examiner for both her preliminary and full certification examinations. Although she primarily teaches in Minneapolis, Roberta has held workshops in Wisconsin and Japan. An accomplished choreographer, Roberta has devised dances for Four Scottish Dances in Memory of Mary Nixon and the RSCDS Twin Cities tenth anniversary book. She also published her own book of dances, The Borealis Book. If you enjoy dancing at the Renaissance Festival please thank Roberta. It was her idea to have the Branch perform at Ren Fest. She called the Festival to suggest Scottish country dancing and the festival requested that the dancers audition. Roberta invited a festival rep to come to that year’s ball. “A woman in a big black cape showed up at the ball and thought we were great!” remembers Roberta and thus began a wonderful tradition for the Branch.

2023 Annual General Meeting coming up!

All branch members are strongly encouraged to attend our one business meeting of the year — our Annual General Meeting on Monday, May 22nd, 2023, at 7:30 PM, at Tapestry Folkdance Center. Come catch a review of the last year, cast some votes, and show your board members how much you love them 🙂 Come at 6:30pm for pizza!

If you are unable to attend, please contact the branch chair (or check your email) for a proxy form, so your vote can still be counted!


  1. Call Meeting to Order
  2. Approve 2022 AGM minutes
  3. Year in Review
  4. Recognitions
  5. Treasurer’s report
  6. Teacher’s report
  7. Performance report
  8. Vote for new officers and board members
    Proposed slate:
    Chair (2 year term): Joe Dolson
    Treasurer (1 year term): Amber Van Dyke
    Secretary (1 year term): Katie Furr
    Members at large (1 year term): Steve Hammill, Kevin Geraghty, Rick Newswanger,
    Sharon Stephens
  9. Other Business
  10. Adjourn meeting

Queen Elizabeth II, patron of the RSCDS has passed away

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip Scottsh dancing in 1982
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, 1982

On Thursday, September 8th, 2022, Queen Elizabeth II passed away at age 96 after over 70 years as Britain’s monarch and over 75 as the patron of our organization. The queen enjoyed Scottish country dancing throughout her life and regularly hosted balls during her time at Balmoral Castle, where she also spent her final days.

See also this tribute from the RSCDS headquarters.

Learn Scottish country dancing with us!

If you’re wondering how to get started, this is the ideal time of year. We’ll be kicking of a new year of Scottish country dancing with our Bring a Friend Night taster event on September 19th and the following Monday (September 26th) we start a new series of Monday night classes.

Classes are for dancers of all experience levels, but in the fall we focus heavily on the basics. During the fall, we also offer a special half hour preview/review at 7pm that is an extra opportunity to work in a small group with a teacher on the main things that will be taught in the regular class starting at 7:30pm or to ask questions or for extra help on anything that may have been covered previously.

Another great reason to come in the fall is that we offer the first six weeks free to anyone new to SCD.

Questions? Contact us at info [at]

Why do we Fest (Part 4)?

[Check out part 1, part 2 and part 3 of this post]

The view from the juggling school

Why do people do what they do?  The Renaissance Festival is the reason we were introduced to RSCDS Scottish dance, and now has become the origin of our other strange hobbies, including juggling and Morris dancing. 

Dancing with RSCDS at the Renfest naturally led to friendships and connections with other performers and exposure to their wild and crazy interests and talents.  Then the pandemic hit, and we gravitated towards trying these new things to pass the time while all events were cancelled.  When it was announced that the RenFest would be going forward in 2021, there was scrambling to fill in positions vacated by those who weren’t ready to come back into crowds.  RSCDS was able to gather enough dancers to perform about half of the scheduled weekends, but the juggling school was closed due to lack of teachers.  We agreed to staff the juggling school – mostly as a favor to a Renfest friend – but also as a lark and something enjoyable enjoyable and different to do. Renfest management was willing to accommodate multiple breaks during the days RSCDS and Morris were dancing so, that we could do both, which gives us a unique perspective on RSCDS from both inside the group and as seen from outside.

The Bear Stage where RSCDS performs is about half-visible from the juggling school.  While the crowds are always moving, moving, moving and there is nearly constant one-to-one interaction with patrons at the juggling school, the Scots are seen on the stage as more of an upraised visual interest rather than a teaching group or a performance to sit and watch.  The bagpipes can be distantly heard from the juggling booth, and while the stage can’t be seen clearly from there, one can catch the swirl of colorful arisaids and hear the snappy dance tunes and know there is something interesting and fun going on.

The Morris dancers are viewed similarly, but there tends to be more variation, lack of rules, and humor.  The Morris team thinks the Scots are more elegant and precise, perhaps even over-prepared and over-rehearsed, while Morris doesn’t even know what they are dancing until they get up on stage, which adds an element of silliness, perhaps outlandishness.  Members of both groups have expressed wanting more interaction between Morris & RSCDS, such as banter on stage, playful commentary about the other group, chasing off the stage, etc.  It would lead to more fun and camaraderie between groups and better entertainment for the audience.  It would also be appreciated by Fest management since it adds an additional element of story and leads to a better flow between performances.

We’d be remiss by closing without relaying an anecdote from this Renfest season.  At the end of a full day of dancing and juggling at Renfest, while at closing gate seeing patrons out, a young boy (probably 8 years old) comes up to get in a last few minutes’ attempt at juggling.  He’s super dirty and wearing only one flip-flop.  I ask, “Where’s your shoe??” He states matter-of-factly, “Elephant ate it,” and just keeps on playing.  Yeah, right, kid.  But his mom is standing right there and it seemed like such a weird thing to make up in front of one’s parent, so we ask her if that was true.  She confirmed – he was on the elephant rides and one of his flip-flops fell off.  Before the elephant handler could grab it, the elephant snatched it up with this trunk and ate it in one fell swoop.  He was absolutely delighted; his mom not so much.  They are now lacking a shoe, but gained a good story as a result.  Perhaps it’s ridiculous moments such as these that keep us coming back to work and perform at the Renfest at every opportunity.

Tiffany & Jason

Why do we Fest (Part 3)?

[Check out part 1 and part 2 of this post]

The view from a double-duty dancer.

What is it that draws you back out there for a second day each weekend?

How do you keep the different dances straight in your head?

What draws me back is that I want to be somewhere that I can dance all day, and be in a different world than I am in most of the time.

To keep dances straight I simplify them as much as possible.  For the RSCDS dances I remember them in a way that works no matter which side of the dance I am on.  I only have trouble confusing the Terpsichory dances with RSCDS dances, when I am doing the Irish dances that Terpsichory does; the steps being so similar and the paths of the dances also being similar makes those harder.  They almost live in the same part of my brain.

I knew some versions of the English Terpsichory dances before I danced with Terpsichory. I will once in a while fall back to the original way I learned those dances, luckily for me it does not cause too many problems (because almost everyone tries to pretend that everything was as expected).

The best way to remember the dances is to trust the people you are dancing with.  Connect with as many of them as possible.  One of those people will know what you should be doing if you forget your part and can lead you to where you should be.  The important thing is to figure out when you have forgotten the dance.  The next important bit is to not panic.  Then just keep dancing.

A way to remember the dances is to always watch what is going on in the dance even if you are not “dancing” during those bars or that dance.


The view from the bagpipes

What is it like to be a piper at Fest, and how is that different to dancing?

The hardest part of being a piper, compared to being a dancer, is that there’s no one to cover you if you get off the tune.  With dancing, we can help each other out with eye contact and subtle gestures (or sometimes with panicked glances and a firm hand hold to keep you from wandering away in the set).  But with piping, there’s not a lot people can do in the moment to help you get back on a tune.  Thankfully the dancers are skilled enough to soldier on in the face of the occasional breakdown!  

In general, learning to do Scottish country dance has greatly informed my piping.  Having knowledge of the dances has saved me so many times when I’ve had slip ups.  And learning to dance has definitely made my piping more musical!


Why do we Fest (Part 2)?

[Check out part 1 of this post]

The view from a longtime Fest addict — regular patron since 1984, performer since 1990:
Why is Fest special to you, why you go back year after year?

At this point it’s primarily about the people.  There are friends that I only see at Fest and it’s nice to spend time with them.  And shared activities, such as the Abram’s Circle dance with the Morris Dancers in the morning, or singing/drumming/playing along with actual professional musicians, or the shopping spree where I get to help someone else spend money.  Even just within our group there are stories and conversations backstage that would never happen at Tapestry.  

Longer term, and underlying everything, is the sense of inhabiting a different reality for a time, of subverting the “real” world.  It’s not a costume if you wear it all day.  When I was a patron, I always dressed in costume and made every effort to only carry dollar coins to be more in character.  And I am still loath to wear a watch or carry electronic devices when I’m out there.

As far as missing a year, it felt like a necessary sacrifice and a protest, not at all a bad thing.  In many ways there was still a sense of solidarity even though we couldn’t be physically together.

I still don’t really consider myself a musician, more an accompanist, so performing out there is more for the benefit of the person/group I’m accompanying, and not the audience, where as a dancer/fool I’m all about the audience.  It’s much more of a “when circumstances permit” activity than my primary activity, so there’s less pressure and more fun to be had.

— Eric

The view from novices:
How did it feel to be a first-time Fool? What is it like to be a helper?

So, as a first time fool, I have to say I think it went well.  I have several witnesses who would agree.  I am a very introverted person, so the idea of speaking in front of a crowd usually fills me with dread.  However, I found that if I got myself into the mindset of playing a character, complete with attempted Scottish accent, then it all became much less intimidating.  I had already heard several of the more experienced Fools during other performances, so I had a good idea of what to say, which helped quite a bit.  If I had to come up with my own original material I would have been much more anxious, and probably would not have volunteered.  The dancers were very supportive and there was one incident when I stepped up to the crowd and completely forgot what I was meant to say, but Katie was piping that day and she helped get me back on track so that most everyone didn’t even notice.  All in all, I’m calling it a success and will likely give it another whirl next year.

As for Elly and her first season as a helper, here are three things she liked and one she didn’t.  She liked getting to hang out with the group backstage.  She got to play cards with Tiffany, watch Janet do some felting, listen to Dick tune his pipes, sit in our chairs in the shade, and really just feel like part of the group.  She liked getting to sit right on the Bear stage and watch our performances.  She liked getting to participate in the opening dance.  It was easy for her to learn and her height wasn’t really a problem (even Stuart was able to promenade with her and that is saying something!).  As for what she didn’t like….the heat! Not much we can do about that, but she’s eight, so what can you expect?


Now it’s your turn, why do you Fest?

RSCDS 2020-1: The Pandemic New Year – Winter

Royal Scottish Cooking, belly Dancing, and Scones

The latest of posts documenting our response to and activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. See previous posts here.

Dec 7thJanet’s Thankful Dances

Classes resumed after the wonderful Virtual Fàilte Ball, with a selection of dances with a thankful theme.  Some were challenging, needing virtual partners, or Post-It Note corners.

Bethankit 32 J 3C
Middling, Thank You 40 J 3C
Rest and Be Thankful 32 J 3C
Many Thanks 32 S 3CS

Dec 14th:  Scottish Belly Dancing (back by popular demand)

Katrina gave us a follow up class on the tradition of belly dance.  Remember those neglected muscles that were talking to you after her last class?  Time for another conversation with them!

Dec 21st:  Ecclefechan Tart and Cranberry Nut Scones

Eric shared some of his baking skills with the group.  He had donated an Ecclefechan tart for the silent auction at the Fàilte Ball; now he demonstrated how to bake it, for lucky winner Hannah.  Next came cranberry nut scones.  Then we heard tell of his hunt for a potato scone recipe – everyone he asked in Scotland bought frozen scones from the supermarket.  The problem with virtual cooking classes is you don’t get to smell or taste the delicious food.

Cranberry Nut Scones

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 cup buttermilk

  • Preheat oven to 425 oF
  • Combine dry ingredients, then cut in butter (Dan & Eric got lost in a discussion about butter forks).
  • Stir in cranberries and nuts, then buttermilk. Dough should be soft and sticky: do not over work.
  • Drop by large spoon-full onto baking sheet.
  • Bake for 14-18 minutes, or until golden brown.

Dec 28th:  Hogmanay

We danced the old year out (who wasn’t be glad to say goodbye to 2020?) with Hogmanay themed dances.  The dances were easy and we revisited Many Thanks from earlier in December.

Farewell to 2020 and a toast to better times in 2021!

2021 opened with the news of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, targeted at first to the most vulnerable people.  This is the ray of sunshine we have been waiting for all year!  We should be able to resume dancing in a few months.

Jan 4th:  Substitute Day

Monday was “2nd January (Substitute Day)” in Scotland.  It’s a national holiday because no one really expects to be able to work effectively on January 2 (sometimes governments can make practical decisions!), but it gets moved because the real January 2nd is a Saturday.  I hope the Scots have recovered by the 5th.

Jan 11th:  Create and Devise Some Dances (part 1)

We used small group breakout rooms to discover what makes one dance more enjoyable than another.  From our armchairs, we created two strathspeys, and two variations of these dances, one a strathspey and one a reel.

Jan 18th:  Create and Devise Some Dances (part 2)

In last Monday’s armchair class we created a couple of dances.  Now we had to get up out of the chair and try them out:

St Andrew’s Chase 32 S 3CS

1-81C down for 2, ½ turn for 2, up for 2 and cast to face 1st corner
9-16reel of 4 on 1st diagonal LSh to 1st corner, pass long way to…
17-24reel of 4 on 2nd diagonal, All finishing in middle on own side
25-32allemande (3,1,2)

January Frost 32 S 3CS

1-81C and 3C double figure of 8 around 2C
9-121C and 2C RHA halfway; 1C and 3C LHA halfway
13-163C and 1C set & link
17-24Diagonal rights & lefts
25-32All circle 6 hands round and back. Finish in the order 3, 1, 2, ready to begin with a new top couple

Jan 25th:  Burn’s Night

A good scotch was called for this night as we settled in for some conversation and entertainment.  

Fer sang a Burns song to start the evening.  Stuart read and unpacked Tam o’ Shanter for those (all?) who needed a translation.  This was followed by the traditional toasts, while we learned about some of the finer details of scotch drinking.

Feb 1st:  No-hands Dances from France

Janet taught three fun and somewhat challenging dances from France that were written last spring during the early months of the pandemic.  The dances had no hand contact to maintain social distance.

There are links to YouTube videos, but not all of them have cribs in the Strathspey Database.

Groundhog Day, 32 R 3C        
Who needs hands when they’ve got eyes, 32 S 3CS  
Nairi and Noah, 32 R 3CS           

Feb 8th:  Practice for Slush Season Social

Janet led some familiar dances (General Stuart’s Reel, and Kendall’s Hornpipe) and some less familiar ones that we have done in class (Many Thanks and Groundhog Day).  These dances will be on the Slush Season Social.

Feb 15th:  Kiltmaking with Jim

Jim Morehouse, former branch Master of Wardrobe, aka Seamus the Tailor, demonstrated kilt making.  It was fascinating to see how a kilt is put together.  The main take-away for me was don’t try this at home, pay someone who knows what they are doing.  Jim’s teddy bear in a kilt was very cute.

Feb 22nd:  Slush(less) Season Social

We celebrated some warmer (less cold?) weather, with dances we had learned in recent weeks.

March 1st:  4th Couple Conversations/Speed Dating

Remember when you were fourth couple and had some of those quick but memorable conversations during the 32 bars you are standing out of the dance.  We got to know our fellow branch members a bit better with some SCD-style speed dating!

March 8th:  The Tournée!

If you’ve ever felt confounded by this formation, in this class Lara aimed to demystify it.

Props required: a broom or similar object

Fête Champêtre 32 J 2C
Dunfermline Glen 32 S 2C
Lady McGowan’s Dream 32 S 2C
Pumpking Baker 32 R 3C

March 15th:  Tea Time with Sharon

Sharon Stephens led us on a stroll through the history of tea, and Japanese tea ceremony traditions.  And, of course, how the British stole and ruined tea.  We learned the official standard for making tea (yes there is a standard!).

Milk before tea or tea before milk?  The correct answer is drink green tea.

March 23rd:  Boozy Dances

BYOB for another virtual dance class featuring boozy dances.

Pint O’ Ale is Fain 32 J 3C
Red Wine & Truffles 32 J 3C (will be danced as a strathspey)
Johnnie Walker 64S + 64J

March 29th:  Volts and Amps and Ohms

Dan Friedman-Shedlov taught us everything we needed to know about electricity, and how it was invented by the Scots.  If you like, take another look at the novelty Scottish country dance Maxwell’s Waves .

Also, there was a Dance Scottish at Home newsletter that featured an article about Maxwell, electricity, and SCD.

April 5th:  Practice for the Ball

This week and next we focused on dances from our upcoming Virtual Grand Ball program.

Reel of the 51st Division 32 R 3C
Zsófi’s Delight 32 J 3C
Come and Dance with Me 32 S 2C

April 12th:  More Practice for the Ball

Fête Champêtre 32 J 3C
Trysting Place 32 S 2C
General Stuart’s Reel 32 R 3C

April 17th:  2021 Virtual Grand Ball, a Fête Champêtre

Live music by Liz Donaldson and David Knight, games, socializing, a silent auction, and more music for your listening pleasure.

Wear a hat!  It’s a garden party — and Phyllis won the prize for the best hat.

The virtual doors opened at 6:30pm with the grand march and dancing at 7pm.

Woman with head tipped to the left wearing a colorful hat made of paper flowers, grapes, and a green feather.
Phyllis’s winning hat

What a treat to have live music from Waverley Station!  I thought live music over Zoom would be meh, but it was invigorating and so refreshing.  The only problem was we couldn’t watch Lara & Dan at the same time, and many of us got lost, alone in our living rooms.

Lara brought us two games. The first was “name that dance”, where the clues included snippets of the instructions (either written or as diagrams), snippets of video, and music.  The fewer clues you needed guess the answer, the more points you got.

The second game was “who’s who” where we had to guess what everyone wanted to be what when they grew up.

Cocktail recipes, ball booklet, name buttons, paper flower, and floral masks arranged on a table
Ball swag

While it can’t compare to an in-person event, it was still a lot of fun.  It was wonderful to see folks from across the continent and even across the ocean!

A huge thank you to everyone who made the event happen, especially Katie Brady for heading up the planning, Fer for being the tech coordinator, Tiffany and Joe for coordinating the auction, and to the folks that delivered the ball swag.

Why do we Fest (part 1)?

The Minnesota Renaissance Festival is the biggest event of the branch year.  Planning the performance repertoire usually starts in March, to be presented to the branch in April/May.  Rehearsals run from July to mid-August.  Then the festival runs for seven weekends through to the end of October.  We continue to perform that repertoire in the following months as other opportunities arise, before it starts all over again.

Why do we Fest?  For fun; we like to spend time (and money) with our dancing friends.

Why do we Fest? Money; it brings in more money than membership dues.

Why do we Fest?  Recruitment; it brings in new dancers.

Why do we Fest?  The performance repertoire is used for other events throughout the year.

Why do we Fest?  Fest dancers stay involved and engaged with the branch.

Why do we Fest?  Out of duty to support the branch.

Yet there are many dancers who have been returning to Fest, year after year, for decades.  We have dancers who juggle double duties and turn out wearing different hats.  We have dancers who go out on their days off, just for fun.

Over a series of posts I will bring you a variety of answers to the question, Why do we Fest?

How did it start?

1976 RenFest contract
1976 contract for the RSCDS Twin Cities Branch to perform at Sept 4-6 at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival for a payment of $220.

The Renaissance Festival was just getting rolling in 1972.  It was still in Jonathan that second summer before it moved to the Shakopee site.  When Roberta Williams heard about it she thought it would be a fun place to dance and a good source of funds.  Roberta contacted Barbara Rourke, the artistic director of the Ren Fest, to see how we could become part of their performer pool.  Our Ball was coming up, so we invited them to come to see us in action in all our finery.  A woman in a large flowing black cape came to the ball to check us out.  We invited her to join in for some easy dances.  When were all done we asked her:

“Well what do you think, are we good candidates for Ren Fest?”

“Definitely, you’re in, you will make a great addition to the Ren Fest!”

Roberta told her that if she liked us, she should check out the Morris Men.  They were subsequently signed up too.  We were paid $25 per day.

Our first time out at the Ren Fest in 1973, many of us wore Faribault plaid blankets and bare feet.  We didn’t want to wear good finery, dress & jackets out there, it wouldn’t fit and they would get ruined.  We had to make up our own costumes.  The people from the Ren Fest gave us an idea of what they were wearing: “peasant-y, but wear lots of plaid ‘cos you’re Scottish”.

[From an Oral History interview with Roberta Williams & Sandy (Gordon) White, 2016]

Now it’s your turn, why do you Fest?

Contribute to the Blue Ribbon Newsletter

Did you know the branch used to have a newsletter, originally called “The Scottish Ramble”, later renamed “The Blue Ribbon”?  The paper issue folded in 2010, replaced by an online edition….if you scroll to the end of the news tab on the website you can find some of the posts that were originally uploaded to the eBlue Ribbon (click “older posts” to see more).

This news tab is the new home of the Blue Ribbon.  I have been posting “The Pandemic Year” to keep a record for the archives of how we sustained our branch through the COVID-19 pandemic. You can see all of the Blue Ribbon posts here.

I invite your thoughts, responses and submissions on branch activities.

— Bill Brown