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.

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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

Children Dancing with the Twin Cities Branch: Future Directions

At our annual general meeting (AGM) last May, we asked for feedback from Branch members on various issues that the board could potentially tackle as priorities this year.  First and foremost among the issues that were identified as needing attention were those concerning the role and status of children in our group.  Based as they are upon the RSCDS constitution as it read up until 2009, our bylaws currently limit membership in the Branch to individuals at least 16 years old, and our classes and other activities have historically been focused on an adult audience.  Over the years the implications of this membership rule on occasional participation by children in classes and performances has been interpreted differently by different boards and teachers.  This inconsistency has created confusion and frustration among many members.

In 2007, the Branch created the Young Dancers Mentorship Program (  This program was intended to establish a clear mechanism whereby children under the age of 16, and thus not eligible for membership in the Branch, could participate in Branch classes.  While the program was a helpful first step, it has proved to be an inadequate solution in a number of aspects, e.g. a) it requires a program director, which we have not had in place for several years now; b) it does not address the participation of children in branch performances.

An additional factor generating some pressure to reconsider this issue in our branch has come from the RSCDS headquarters. Observing the aging membership in most branches (ours is, thankfully, a bit of an exception) and recognizing the need to foster enthusiasm for Scottish country dancing in the next generation, the RSCDS has been placing increasing emphasis on teaching children.  In recent years they have developed instructional materials and videos for teachers of children, organized dance weekends for youth, begun publishing an e-zine for youth, and launched a youth development project with funding from the Scottish Arts Council (see for more information).  In 2009, the worldwide membership voted to change the constitution to lower the age of membership in RSCDS to 12 years old.

Following the AGM last May, the board appointed a committee, chaired by board secretary Angie McCracken, charged with making recommendations for future directions the Branch should take vis-à-vis participation by children.  In addition to Angie, committee members included Jamie Berg, Bill Brown, Eric Salo, and Ed Stern.   The committee met twice since October 2010 and also corresponded by email.  Announcements of its December meeting were made via the Yahoo Group and at Monday night classes, and Branch members were invited to attend or send their thoughts.  The committee presented its recommendations and guidelines for young dancers, printed below, at the joint board/teachers meeting on January 9th.

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New Policy on Expenses for Gigs

Over the years the Branch has been fortunate to have many opportunities to perform both locally and further afield in greater Minnesota or even in the wilds of western Wisconsin.  Some of these gigs involve significant travel, and occasionally even overnight accommodation.  In recent months, it has come to the attention of the board that there has been a lack of clarity and consistency in how and when reimbursements for such expenses are handled.

Research within our own archives and discussion with former board members revealed that the Branch had adopted various policies in place in the past, but they were poorly communicated; neither the current board members (some of whom had been long-time members of the group) nor the current performance coordinator were aware of them.  Certainly they have not been applied with any regularity or consistency.  After considering past policies and keeping in mind the balance between potential for income and the need to make performances an enjoyable experience for members (who are, after all, volunteers), the board adopted the following policy:

Reimbursement for certain expenses associated with participating in gigs may be available.

  • Reimbursement is normally offered only for gigs at a considerable distance from the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area (50 miles from Tapestry) and typically limited to gas and/or accommodations.
  • The availability of expense reimbursement will be predetermined per gig by the performance coordinator (in consultation with the board if necessary) based on a balance between how much we will earn from the gig and what will make the gig feasible and enjoyable for the dancers.
  • If expenses may be reimbursable, this will be announced when the gig is announced.
  • When the performance coordinator thinks a gig might reasonably involve an overnight stay, s/he will try to negotiate extra funds up front.
  • When reimbursement is offered for gas, the total gas allowance is to be divided by the number of dancers attending and each driver is given this unit amount multiplied by the number of dancers that traveled in the driver’s car.

For future reference, this policy has been added to the Yahoo group files area section on gigs.

A major intent of the policy is to ensure as much as possible that expectations about who will bear incidental expenses are clear BEFORE a performance takes place, when it more likely that we could successfully negotiate for additional money if needed.

From the Archives

How far have we come? Check out the very first RSCDS Twin Cities Branch newsletter, published in July 1977.  Back then it was called The Scottish Ramble. It was produced on a typewriter and any illustrations were drawn by hand. The first issue was just two pages and featured news about the Branch’s 2nd annual ball (our 35th is coming up next April!) , a summary of its recent annual meeting, and other short news items and notes.  Not too many familiar names for most of us, but you should see at least one you recognize on page 2!

The Scottish Ramble – July1977

New Era for the Blue Ribbon

Back in 1977, when the first issue of our branch newsletter came out (originally called The Scottish Ramble and changed to The Blue Ribbon in 1982), it was unlikely anyone would have foreseen the way our communications technology would evolve in the next 33 years.  With the rise of the Internet and applications like email, the World Wide Web, and Facebook, we have increasingly found that a traditional paper-based newsletter has a much more limited role. More critically, we have lately been unable to find a member willing to take on the role of editor.  (You may have noticed that apart from the AGM-focused issue that came out last April, you haven’t received a copy for nearly a year.) These challenges, in addition to the considerable cost and work involved in producing a paper newsletter, led the board to appoint a subcommittee to consider the future of the Blue Ribbon.

This subcommittee, consisting of Branch treasurer Tom Harries and Branch chair and former Blue Ribbon editor Lara Friedman-Shedlov, met over the summer and also consulted with immediate past-editor, Barbara Cameron.  The group’s first task was to clarify the role of the various communications methods the Branch is now using, which include not only the newsletter but the public web site, the Yahoo email list and web site, and the our Branch Facebook page. The group considered several possibilities for the future of the newsletter, including 1) going with an online PDF publication (essentially what we are already doing, but trying to further reduce the number of paper copies printed), 2) an email-based version, or 3) a web-based version based on a blog platform.  After analyzing the pros and cons, the group recommended and the board approved the third option.  Starting with this issue, which will appear simultaneously in the new format, we will be transitioning the Blue Ribbon to a blog.  This will be the last issue to be produced in paper format.  Starting now and going forward, you will find the Blue Ribbon online at (there will also be a link from the public and Yahoo web sites).

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