My View of The Recent Scottish Ceilidh

My View of The Recent Scottish Ceilidh
by Ed Stern

I heard about it via Andy McCracken’s email to the Branch “. . . see the Gunn Slingers in a free concert at Celtic Junction. . . If you have never been to a Scottish Highland Ceilidh this is a must! It is a night of dancing . . .
Neil Gunn is a young accordion player that has recently moved to the Twin Cities from Scotland and has been playing for ceilidh dancing since he was a child.“ It was held on December 17th; I was intrigued; I went and was glad I did.

I had a lot of fun dancing, and I watched some amazing spontaneous “performances” during the band’s breaks. The dances were all very approachable; several were variations on dances we do in the Branch (Dashing White Sergeant, Strip the Willow, Gay Gordons), but done in a fashion I think would be more familiar to those who grew up in Scotland or who have lived there for some time. One fun dance was introduced as “Hooligans’ Reel” and had four people in a single straight line; as soon as Neil Gunn started to describe what we were supposed to do I recognized it as a variant of the Reel of Tulloch, an alternation
of swinging in pairs and of setting; another name for this dance is the Hullachan Reel which I imagine easily evolved into Hooligans’ Reel. Not totally limited to Scottish dances, we also did a Virginia Reel, and the Cumberland Square Eight which is English.

The one thing lacking was Branch dancers: less than half dozen current Branch dancers were there, plus a few others who had danced with the Branch some years back. On the other hand, since it was at Celtic Junction there were scads of Irish dancers who made it very interesting because they all used Irish steps and styling. It was a raucous Celtic mixture of wonderful impurity. Since it was a Scottish band leading Scottish dancing, it would have been nice to see a higher proportion of Scottish dancers. The next time
one of these comes up it would be great to see lots of Branch members in attendance, helping to show the Scottish styling off a bit more. Be mindful, though, that it’s not the formal atmosphere of an RSCDS Ball, and they are likely to do quite a few couple dances (Canadian Barn Dance, Military Two-Step). But if you let your hair down I’ll bet that you’ll have a great time. I know I’ll be going back for more Gunn Slingers Ceilidh fun.

Notice of Annual General Meeting

The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society Twin Cities Branch will hold its Annual General Meeting on Monday, 16 May at 7:30pm at Tapestry Folkdance Center, 3748 Minnehaha Avenue South in Minneapolis.
» Agenda
» Slate of Nominees for the Board
» Proxy Ballot (for use if you cannot attend in person)

All members are strongly encouraged to attend. The agenda and the slate of nominees for the 2011-2012 board are below. Please follow the links to the RSCDS Twin Cities Branch Yahoo Group files section for relevant reports. If you are a member and cannot access the Yahoo group or are having trouble downloading documents, please contact the chair (chair [at] to have documents sent to you directly. If you cannot be present at the meeting, there is a proxy ballot you can print out and give to another member to submit at the AGM. Please note that at this time we do not have a full slate of candidates for the open positions on the board, so we expect to be taking nominations from the floor.

Meeting Highlights:

  • Bylaws Changes
    Of particular importance this year are several proposed changes to our branch bylaws the board is proposing. There are two main categories of changes:

    1. Changes reducing the minimum age for membership in the Branch to 12.
      These changes are proposed to implement recommendation #1 of the committee on children, which released its report this past January.
    2. Changes to the structure of the board
      The board is recommending these changes to make it easier to fill board positions and to encourage and make it easier for vice chairs to become chairs.

    Please see the document detailing the proposed changes (via the Yahoo Web site).

  • Donation to Tapestry Folkdance Center
    As many of you know, Tapestry was offered a grant that would match up to $10,000 in donations. In recognition of the value of our long-time partnership, the Board authorized a modest donation of $500 from the RSCDS Twin Cities Branch as a contribution to this campaign. As part of the treasurer’s report, we will also be asking for your input on the possibility of an additional donation.
  • 35th Anniversary Recognition
    As has previously been announced, 2011 is our 35th anniversary as an RSCDS Branch. We’ve reserved some time on the agenda for a discussion on how we might mark this milestone, so bring your ideas.

NOTE: Bring your checkbooks! At the AGM we will start collecting dues for the 2011-2012 membership year. No change in dues is proposed, so the same bargain rates will apply.


1. Approval of minutes from AGM 2010 (via the Yahoo web site)

2. Treasurer’s report
    a. Report on membership and finances for 2010-2011
    b. 501c3 application update
    c. Donation to Tapestry Matching Grant Fund – discussion of possible additional donation
    d. Proposed budget for 2011-2012

3. Reports from committees (presented for information), followed by 10 minute Q & A
(All reports will be made available via the Yahoo Group before the meeting. They will not be read at the meeting, although paper copies will be available for review.)
    a. Teachers report
    b. Webmaster
    c. Blue Ribbon
    d. Socials
    e. Performances (non-RenFest)

4.”The Year in Review”

5. Recognition

6. Announcements
    a. RenFest Committee (rehearsal schedule, etc.)
    b. Summer Dancing
        – June dancing schedule
        – Performances at Southwest Center, and River Falls, and Stratford.

7. Bylaws changes (via Yahoo web site)
    a. Changes to Articles III and IV concerning minimum age for membership
    b. Changes to Articles IV and V concerning board structure

8. 35th anniversary recognition plans

9. Open Forum

10. Election of Officers


(as of 2 May 2011)

Chair: Eric Salo (2-year term)
Vice Chair*: [no candidates] (2-year term)
Secretary: [no candidates] (2-year term)
Members at Large: (1-year terms)
    Bill Brown
    Gail Fagerstrom
    Andrea Helebrant
    Angie McCracken

*Although Eric Salo’s term as vice-chair technically does not expire until 2012, we expect the position of Vice Chair to be open as of the AGM. Whether the proposed bylaws change (changing the years in which vice chairs are elected to the same year as that in chairs are elected) passes or not, the only way we won’t be needing a new vice-chair for 2011-2012 is if Eric is NOT elected to the position of chair, which seems highly unlikely, as he is the only candidate. Since we anticipate the position to be open, we felt it would be best to give the membership the opportunity to participate in the election of a new vice-chair. However, under the terms of article 4.5 of the bylaws if the position is unfilled after the AGM, the board can simply appoint someone to serve until the next AGM.

Learn Dances from Online Animations

Many of us have dreamed of the day it might be possible to enter dance instructions into a program and see an animation of the dance showing you how it looks. Now that day is nearly here! While it isn’t quite as easy as typing in the dance instructions and pressing “go,” Linda Mae Dennis, from the SW Washington State Branch, has created software that allows the creation of what she calls “DancieMaetion Movies” with just a bit more work. The software is still in the testing phase, but Linda Mae has created animations for an entire program (dance scheduled for April 30th if you can make it out to Vancouver, WA that day) which are available online.

While the videos are “smart phone-friendly” we do advise that you restrict viewing to times between dances, since, as one recent “texting while walking” incident proves, it create some unintentional entertainment!

“DancieMaetion” of “The Wind on Loch Fyne”

Renaissance Festival Landmark Makes a Comeback with Our Help

The original bear

Many of our members fondly remember the huge bear sculpture that presided over the Bear Stage for many years at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. The mascot our main performance venue at the Festival not only provided a highly visible landmark to which we could direct our friends and family, but a welcome bit of shade on hot sunny days and even a few nooks to stash our mugs and baskets while we danced. When about 5 years ago the wooden sculpture ultimately rotted to the point where it had to be taken down to avoid the risk of it falling and crushing someone, the loss was keenly felt by RSCDS and the other dance groups that share the stage, as well as many other RenFest performers and regulars. Talk of replacing the bear began almost as soon as the old one was gone, but it was not until this year that that the idea became a reality. Thanks to H. Bill Way from the Minnesota Traditional Morris Dancers, a new bear sculpture has been commissioned and should be in place by the start of this year’s Festival run! To raise the necessary money, Bill is selling “shares” in the bear. The RSCDS Twin Cities Branch’s contribution (see certificate below) will be commemorated with a small brass plaque on the bear.

It’s not too late to buy a share or two yourself. We kept the Branch’s contribution fairly small, assuming many members would like to donate individually. Follow the link above for more information.

So it’s NOT Your First Dance . . .

We’ve had a web page with etiquette tips for newer dancers for years, and most dancers who’ve been doing SCD for more than a year or two will probably not find any surprises there. We try to mention these points at Monday night classes, especially during the Fall when we have a lot of new beginners. However, there are some points of etiquette that pertain especially to more experienced dancers, and which are mentioned less often, if at all. With the ball season about to start, it seemed that now would be an especially good time to mention some of these.

1) Review the list of basic etiquette points listed at the link above. Be honest with yourself and note how many of these conventions you have been flouting or getting lazy about. We can’t really ask new dancers to follow them if the more experienced aren’t bothering.

2) It’s nice to help folks who need it (or who seem to need it) but don’t be bossy. No one likes to be told what to do constantly. We don’t want the dance to fall apart, but on the other hand we don’t want to alienate people by making them think they need to be told what to do every second. So unless a dancer has specifically asked you to give them that kind of help, back off a bit. This includes pointing and gesturing, not just talking. YES, THIS MEANS YOU!

3) Especially at a ball or social, don’t correct people in the middle of a dance when it will have no affect on the outcome of the dance or others’ ability to do the dance. Social dancing is not the time or place for that, as good as your intentions may be.

4) Ask beginners and people you don’t know to dance. Make them feel welcome.

5) The corollary to #4 is ask, but don’t press, unless it’s genuinely an easy dance, in which case a little encouragement might be in order for some of the shy folk. But you are doing no one any favors by coercing a less experienced or less capable dancer into a set whose members will then have to struggle to help them do the dance successfully. Ninety percent of the time, it’s possible to do a dance in a 3-, 5-, or 7-couple (beg & borrow) set if there aren’t enough couples to make up a set.

6) This one may be new to many people, and it may be strange, but it is true: If you are doing a 3-couple dance 8x through in a 5-couple set (such that the last 2 couples only get one repetition each as 1st couple), the 4th couple (who are at the top for the 7th repetition) should go to the bottom of the set after their turn, rather than staying in 2nd place. If you do the actual math, it turns out that everyone gets a more fair share of of dancing if 4th couple go to the bottom for the 8th repetition. Spread the word!

See you at the ball!

Benefit for Branch Music Fund

An Evening of Scottish Music to Benefit the RSCDS Twin Cities Branch Music Fund
An evening of Scottish music, featuring the singing of Branch teacher and board chair Lara Friedman-Shedlov, and instrumental music from Don and Sherry Ladig of Dunquin along with guest fiddler Ann Mossey Sandberg, in a gracious South Minneapolis home. This concert is a fundraiser for our new Music Fund. All admissions ($10 at the door) to go to this worthy project. 7:30pm at Heidi and Bob’s house, 5009 Wentworth Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55419

New Policy Adopted on Children in the Branch: Responses to Your Questions and Concerns

At the open meeting held on 8 February 2011, the board adopted a new policy and guidelines for participation by children in in Branch classes and other activities. This policy and guidelines, now available on the branch web site is based on recommendations presented to a joint meeting of the Branch teachers and board on 9 January 2011 and subsequently shared with the Branch membership, along with a request for feedback.

The board received feedback from a number of Branch members. Most expressed support for the recommendations, but a number of issues and questions were raised. After extensive discussion and research by both the committee and the board, the board is confident that all of these issues have been satisfactorily addressed and we were comfortable moving forward to approve the recommendations with one slight modification. In the interest of allowing the membership to understand the reasoning behind the board’s decision and to feel confident that concerns have been considered and addressed, below is a list of these questions/issues along brief explanations/responses.

Continue reading “New Policy Adopted on Children in the Branch: Responses to Your Questions and Concerns”

Fostering Live Music in the Branch

Editor’s Note: Another of the priorities identified at last year’s AGM was how to increase the use of live music in the branch and foster musicians within the membership. A committee, headed by board member Alan Grant, was appointed and their report follows.

The Ad Hoc RSCDS Music Committee, consisting of Alan Grant, Chair and RSCDS-TC Board Member-at-Large; and Branch members Eric Dam, Janet McKernan, Scott Marsalis and Roberta Williams, met on Saturday, 16 October 2010 to discuss the role of live music at Branch functions.

We began our meeting with a “brief walk down memory lane”, recalling to mind those who have influenced the Branch over the years. These included Ron Wallace, founding member/teacher as well as musician; and the Liebermans of Ames, Iowa, who spent part of a sabbatical year in the Twin Cities in the early 2000s and were instrumental in recruiting Branch members to “play along”; and the Talisker Collective, consisting of several volunteer Branch members and led by Sherry Ladig, who played for most of our Branch socials in 2007-2009. At our Fàilte Ball (early December) and the Grand Ball (March/April in recent years) music has been provided over the past 30 years by the paid professional group Thistledown.

Given the Branch’s tradition of utilizing live music, the Committee expressed strong interest in continuing to promote live music at Branch functions. This is in keeping with the mission statement the board is planning to recommend the Branch adopt:

The mission of the RSCDS-Twin Cities is to further the appreciation and practice of Scottish country dancing in Minnesota for present and future generations by offering classes and workshops, training teachers, sponsoring dances, performing, and supporting musicians within and beyond the group to learn and play Scottish country dance music.

Piggybacking on that was the clear directive to promote and encourage Branch members to “pick up the fiddle” (or whatever your weapon of choice) and join in the fun of making music. An informal task force has evolved, utilizing Branch members Eric Dam and Helen Grant with Lara Friedman-Shedlov as consultant, to help pull things together, encouraging musicians to become acquainted with a variety of music (e.g. jigs, reels and strathspeys) played in the Scottish tradition.

Another item that came up for discussion was the role of live music at Branch “gigs” (e.g. Big Island, Ren Fest and others). This included helping lead dances at special events such as weddings or parties organized by others outside the Branch. The Ad Hoc Committee strongly recommended that the Branch person coordinating the performance be the one to negotiate a separate contract with professional musicians when live music was requested, rather than letting the hiring party supply do so. This would ensure that those providing the music had familiarity with Scottish Country Dance music including style, balance and tempo. The Committee agreed to put together a list of suggested local musicians, along with their contact information, for use as a resource by the performance coordinator.

Finally, we put our “thinking caps” on and pondered what might be a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) for us as a Branch: Organizing and promoting a weekend music workshop that would use musicians of national renown such as Liz Donaldson, Elke Baker, Hanneke Cassel, etc. Financing this would be a challenge and we would need to explore possible donations from others within the Twin Cities Scottish community.

This is all a “work in progress” and we welcome your ideas and suggestions. Please feel free to contact any of us on the Ad Hoc Music Committee.

Respectfully submitted,

Alan W. Grant