Non-Verbal Communication

The following article by Linda Mae Dennis is reprinted with permission from The Scottish Country Dancer (publication of the RSCDS Southwest Washington State Branch), vol. 29, #6.  Good food for thought and helpful tips as we move into our performance repertoire rehearsal season.

There was a bit of a buzz on the Strathspey Server in December about communication on the dance floor. Many good points were made. The main one was that help given on the dance floor needs to be non-verbal. That certainly gave me something to think about, as I am very guilty of talking both to my partner and others in the set during dances. The audio channel should be reserved, most importantly for the music, and also for the teacher, coaching rhythmically as needed. And as needed is quite key.

It was noted that if help is given constantly, the people who need the help never learn to actually dance for themselves. One comment was, “This is what Hugh Foss called ‘learning to dance the way a tennis ball learns to play tennis.'” It was suggested that even non-verbal help should be limited. In fact, I was talking with a dancer just last evening who learned Scottish Country Dancing as the only beginner in a group of experienced dancers. He told me he didn’t really learn anything for a very long time, because people would show him or shove him constantly. He was never allowed to make the mental connections that lead to good dancing.

Bruce Hamilton said, “The reverse of obtrusive helping can create a virtuous circle. If help is given only when needed, and then lightly, the less experienced dancers watch more closely for the cues. That is, they pay careful attention to the faces and bodies of the people they’re dancing with (who pay careful attention to them, trying to discern whether they need help). When that becomes commonplace, the cues can become even more subtle. The dancing gets more and more musical, the dancers pay exquisite attention to each other, the touching becomes as much ‘listen’ as ‘talk’ and the whole thing just takes off.” I think this is a good goal to give only non-verbal cues and give those subtly and only when really necessary. So here are some suggestions for those who may need help and for those who wish to help:

Need Help:

Watch your partner very closely, particularly their eyes, hands, even their fingers. Keep in mind that you will almost always be either mirroring your partner or going the same way they are going, so even if you’re facing out of the set, turn your head to see what your partner is doing. Keep an eye on the faces of other dancers in your set. If their eyes move in the same direction as a tilt of their head, that’s probably the way you’re supposed to go.

Try your best to learn the lingo and try to remember the dance in manageable chunks, for example, Cross and Cast and Half Figure of Eight (one chunk) is easier to remember than Cross with Right Hands. Cast off One Place and Dance a Half Figure of Eight (3 chunks, but exactly the same thing.)

Wish to Help:

Be sure you are remembering the dance correctly before offering help, and dance well, with good handing and phrasing. This is often more helpful than just getting the figures right. Watch your partner very closely, particularly their eyes. If the eyes say ” I know what’ s next!” then enjoy the music and the dancing and let your partner do the same. Try to give hands on the phrase (not before). Try to make any helping gestures more and more subtle as you progress through the dance.

We all need to keep in mind that making mistakes is part of dancing, and that a good mistake enhances the enjoyment of the dancing better than any amount of shouting or shoving or even loud talking and wild gestures ever will. Mum’s the word!

Branch Award

At last night’s AGM it was my distinct pleasure to present Lara Friedman-Shedlov with a RSCDS Branch Award on behalf of the Twin Cities chapter for her tireless and outstanding contributions to our organization. We are all truly fortunate to have her as a fellow member. So congratulations again, Lara, and thank you for being so relentlessly awesome.

Notice of the Annual General Meeting

The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society Twin Cities Branch will hold its Annual General Meeting on Monday, 14 May at 7:30pm at Tapestry Folkdance Center, 3748 Minnehaha Avenue South in Minneapolis.

All members are strongly encouraged to attend. The agenda and the slate of nominees for the 2012-2013 board are below. Please follow the links to the RSCDS Twin Cities Branch Yahoo Group for details on the bylaws changes and the 2011 minutes. 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.


  1. Approve 2011 AGM Minutes
  2. Year in Review
  3. Treasurer Report & Proposed Budget
  4. Recognition
  5. New Formal Performance Attire
  6. Renaissance Fair Participation
  7. Branch T-Shirts
  8. Bylaws changes (see here and here)
  9. Any Other Business
  10. Vote for new Board Members


  • For Treasurer (for one year term) : Tom Harris
  • For Member-at-Large  (one year terms): Bill Brown, Andrea Helebrant, Angie McCracken, Stuart McKernan

Remaining on the Board for 2012-2013:
Eric Salo, Chair
Janet McKernan, Vice Chair
Sharon Stephens, Secretary

Leaving the Board:
Gail Fagerstrom, Member-at-Large

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!