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.

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

RSCDS 2020: The Pandemic Year So Far – Fall

Royal Scottish Cooking, Belly Dancing, and Sewing

Sept 3rd:  Kevin and Sarah announced the birth of Norah.

Sept 14th:  Meet an Old Friend Night.

Normally we kick off our fall season with Bring a Friend Night, a sampler class with live music.  Due to COVID, we couldn’t meet on the dance floor, instead we welcomed special guests Ron Wallace, Gary Thomas, Joy and Jim Gullikson, and Ed Stern to our Zoom room to share some stories about the early days of the RSCDS Twin Cities Branch and Scottish dancing in the Twin Cities.

Ron learned Scottish country dancing from his mother.  He remembers Florence Hart and George McCracken came to Mankato to teach a class while he was a teenager.  Florence invited him to join the Scottish country dance classes, even though this was a 3 hour round trip from Mankato.  He joined a class run by Sandy Gordon, which included dancers George McCracken, Florence Hart, Ann Tibor, Roberta Williams and Ed Stern.

At this time the group was not yet a branch, but an affiliated group.  Bill Young persuaded Ron, Ed and Roberta to train for the teaching preliminary certificate so that we would have enough teachers to become a full branch.  After a training workshop, Ron was so frustrated that he dropped out.  The candidates had to go up to Winnipeg to take the exam.  Ed had already bought the train tickets, so Ron was persuaded to come back, and they took the exam in April 1975.  The examiner was Miss Jean Milligan, who spent the whole exam chatting to Bill Young – apparently she could size up candidates very quickly.  We became a branch shortly afterwards that same year.  Two years later Miss Milligan visited Minneapolis to examine the candidates for their full certificates.  That was her sixth stop on a 21 city tour of North America at the age of 91.

Gary started dancing in second grade with square dancing and tap, then as he got older he moved onto ballet and contemporary dance.  In college he did theater and choreography.  Ron hired him to code documents into databases, and to relieve the boredom, brought him along to Scottish country dancing.  Gary got his prelim certificate in 1979 and the full certificate in 1981.  Ron and Gary left Minnesota in 1988 and moved to Santa Rosa.  They have written over 100 tunes which will soon be published as a book.

Ed has been a member of the RSCDS since 1969, learning from RSCDS teacher and examiner C. Stewart Smith.  There were no branches in the Midwest at that time so he joined the RSCDS headquarters in Edinburgh.  Thus he was an RSCDS member for about seven years before the formation of the TC Branch.  Ed moved here in 1971 and joined the group run by Sandy Gordon and others.  He soon got roped into teaching the class, and continued teaching for the next 45 years.  Ed has been active in a lot of different folk dancing groups.  In 1977 he created the Saltari Folk Dance Emporium. When Saltari closed in 1983 a group of its dancers kept the concept alive by founding the Tapestry Folkdance Center.  In 1997 Ed and Lara started the Fàilte Ball, originally called the Beginners Ball. It was an informal fun graduation party for folks at the end of their first year of SCD, blue jeans were OK and no one had to dress up in any way in order to attend.

Joy’s mother grew up in Edinburgh during the time the RSCDS was forming.  She was taught Scottish country dancing by Miss Allie Anderson (a contemporary of Miss Milligan) at Gillespie’s School for Girls (the school featured in the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie).  When they moved to Minneapolis in 1980 she found the branch and started dancing. She took up Scottish step dancing in 1984. Joy & Jim are one of the branch couples brought together by dancing.

Joy’s favorite season was ‘87-88.  She and Jim had just been married; Ron drilled her for the teaching certificate through her pregnancy; she danced her first step dancing performance up at Ironworld with Gary; with a two-week old babe in her arms she organized a concert with Alasdair Frazer and Muriel Johnstone, and the first step dancing workshop in March 1988. Another highlight was in 1998, when she represented the Twin Cities Branch at the RSCDS 75th Anniversary Celebration at Stirling Castle in Scotland and gave our compliments to our patron, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

Sept 21st:  Lara opened the new (virtual) season from her attic.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice 32J 2C.

Seann Triubhas Willichan / Seann Triubhas Willichair) 32S 2C (have a chair available).
Challenge dance: Forty and Counting 40R3C (use post-it notes to mark the corner positions).

Reinventing the Wheel 32J/R 3C.

Sept 28th:  Online pub night and chat.

BYOB and bar snacks :-).

Question of the week: What inspired you to start SCD and what got you hooked?

Oct 5th:  Cape Breton reel step.

This is the basic step that is used in both Cape Breton ceilidh dancing and also in solo Cape Breton step dancing.  This style of dance is traditionally done by people of all ages and is not nearly as physically demanding as highland dancing.  Whereas in highland dancing you are typically trying to hop high in the air and point your toes, Cape Breton dancing is traditionally done “close to the floor” and the body is more relaxed.

Oct 5th:  Chandi and Jacob introduced us to Fiona. She was born on Monday, October 5th at 9:26pm…and apologized for being late to class.

Oct 12th:  Fête champêtre!

A fête champêtre was a popular form of entertainment in the 18th century, taking the form of a garden party.  This was particularly popular at the French court at Versailles, where areas of the park were landscaped with follies, pavilions, and temples, to accommodate such festivities.

We needed:- Space to dance –yes, this evening involved dancing! — marked off for a square set.

For anyone who is interested in reviewing the dance, this video is a more accurate rendition of the dance than the one we used for teaching (the visual quality of the recording is poor). In the last figure, you do up back-to-back with your partner and you start the grand chain with your partner’s corner (position) using your left hand.

Oct 19th:  Lara and Dan’s 23rd wedding anniversary.

They chose dances with an appropriate theme 🙂

Kiss Under the Stairs 3C  32J  MMM.  (For Solo dancers Kiss Over the Chair  1 person, a mop / broom and a chair).

Trysting Place 2C  32S  RSCDS 35.

Challenge Dance: Love is in the Air 3C  48R  Eysseric.

Oct 23rd:  An evening of spooky Scottish tales!

“Bring your own tricks and treats, and a blanket to hide under if you get scared”.

Stuart gave us his rendition of the classic “Tam O’Shanter,” whilst Lara regaled us with “The Phantom Regiment of Killicrankie.”  If you are interested in Scottish ghost stories, check out the Project Gutenberg EBook of Scottish Ghost Stories, by Elliott O’Donnell online

Nov 2nd:  Scottish Belly Dancing.

Is there such a thing?  Well there is now!

We’re not used to moving our hips as Scottish country dancers, so we discovered some muscles we didn’t know we had!  Katrina gave us a short introduction to the tradition of belly dance. “Belly dancing is for all ages and all genders!  Wear loose, comfortable clothing and a scarf or sash (tartan optional) to tie around your hips can help”.  This class was recorded, contact Bill for a copy.

NB.  Not only is belly dancing a traditional birthing practice to help ease the pains of childbirth, it turns out that it is an ideal pandemic dance form – it can be performed solo, in isolation, and physically distanced from other dancers. I propose we change our name to the Royal Scottish Country and Belly Dancing Society.

Nov 9th:  Scones & Lemon Curd.

With the coming of cooler weather, it was a perfect time for Scottish baking with Jim & Joy.  Gosh what haven’t they done?  Between them: teacher, branch president, board member, treasurer, choreographer, archivist, performers.

They have an equally impressive catering record.  Joy & Jim helped to run the branch food booth at The Festival of Nations through the 1980s.  The archive has various menus which included Scots broth, haggis, meat pies, bridies, shortbread, Eyemouth tart, trifle, clapshot, crannachan, butterscotch and tea.  Does anyone have photos of the food booth?

Joy & Jim also ran a bakery and import shop called John McLean Company, in Galtier Plaza, St. Paul, from 1987-1993.  Anyone remember eating there?

Best of all, they made refreshments for the Fàilte Ball from about 1999-2010.  I met their catering at my first Fàilte Ball at Barton Elementary in 2008.  You could feel the table groaning: laden with mini sandwiches, pies, cakes, biscuits, scones and of course, tea.

Here are their recipes for scones, lemon curd, and raspberry butter.  The recipes are bare bones, you had to attend the class to learn the “tricks”!

PLAIN OR CURRANT SCONES:  4 C flour, ½ C sugar, 1 T + 1 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt.  Add 1 1/3 stick chopped cold butter.

Mix: 1 C milk, 2 egg.  Optional:  1 C currents.  Bake 340 oF about 30 minutes.

LEMON CURD:  In double boiler melt together: 3 sticks butter, 3 C sugar.

Add 1½  C lemon juice and zest  (5 large or 6 small lemons), 10 eggs beaten and strained.  Cook until spoon stands up in curd.  Note:  swap lemons for limes to make lime curd.

RASPBERRY BUTTER:  Whip together 1 stick butter, 1 jar raspberry jam.  Adjust to taste.

Nov 16th:  Ladies’ and Men’s chains and Schiehallion reels.

Eva Three-Step

Kendall’s Horpipe 32 J 2C

Gie Us a Hand 32 R CfC (this has a men’s chain, back-to-back, and quite a bit of setting in it)

Another Covid-19 Dance 48 J 4C sq

Bon Viveur S + R 4C sq

Nov 23rd:  “Wear a hat.”

We have all heard Andi urge us to wear a hat for RenFest performances.  Wearing hats is required by RenFest’s costuming guidelines, because going out in public without one at the time was Simply Not Done.

Fer demonstrated how to make the muffin caps she wears with her RenFest outfits. It was a demo rather than a sew-a-long, using a sewing machine and an iron, but she talked about how to do it with just a needle & thread.

Highlights included her late 90s decor sewing room, and watching her swear at her sewing machine/cat while trying not to stick herself with pins.

Nov 30th:  How to devise a dance.

We warmed up with the Hesitation Waltz and then devised a dance “by committee”.  This was an opportunity to talk about how dances are constructed, what makes them work, and what makes them fun.  The outcome was a dance we called “St Andrew And The Bear”, based on choosing a quick-time, 2-couple dance with back-to-back, hands across, and a poussette:


1-4       1C and 2C dance back-to-back with neighbor.

5-8       1C and 2C dance RH across.

9-12     1C and 2C dance back-to-back with partner.

13-16   1C and 2C dance LH across finishing in the middle, both hand joined with partner.

17-24   1C and 2C poussette. On the last 2 bars, instead of retiring to the sidelines, 1C finish in the middle, 1M behind 1W.

25-32   1C dance a shadow (optionally a swapover) reel of 3 across with 2C, passing 2W right shoulder to begin. 1C finish facing ready for the back-to-back at the beginning of the next repetition.

*Devised on St. Andrews Day 2020 by the RSCDS-TC class. At least one person was dancing with a bear*

Dec 5th:  Inaugural Fàilte-Zoom Ball 2020.

The 24th annual Fàilte Ball on December 5, 2020, drew 48 attendees on 36 screens. The virtual doors, opened virtually at 12:30 pm for a virtual Grand March led by Lara and Dan through 36 living rooms.

The program of dances for the ball:

1Eva Three StepX161RR
2Kendall’s HornpipeJ322/4L
3The Birks of InvermayS323/4L
5Strathglass HouseS323/4L
6General Stuart’s ReelR323/4L
7Hesitation WaltzW161RR

Social dancing was chased down with a selection of Nathan’s finest cocktails: Bath Tub Gin, and Nathan’s Vodka Sour. That got us in the mood for a zoom-ceilidh, quite unlike any ceilidh you had ever been to before:

  • Jamie and Fynn gave us gymnastics from Norway. 
  • Katrina shimmied some belly dancing.  
  • Rick sang bawdy drinking songs for/by/about priests.  
  • Bill’s kilt shopping veered off into a saga of King Forkbeard and Vikings.  
  • Helen played name that tune on the fiddle.  
  • Finally, Tiffany wrapped up with the Malaguena played on the accordion. This inspired the threat of a new branch trio combining accordion, banjo and bagpipes.

After all that, more cocktails were needed.  Nathan brought us Gimlet, and Novgorod Nog.  All of his cocktails were served in a coffee mug..….. the same mug I think.

Good preparation for Katie’s pub quiz, and finally Tiffany wrapped up proceedings by announcing the silent auction winners.

COVID Safety Policy

UPDATED 13 April 2023

Masks are currently optional at all RSCDS events.

We strongly recommend staying up to date with all vaccines for which you are eligible.

Tapestry’s ventilation system for the studios is extremely good, which makes them relatively safe places to be indoors–the air is exchanged frequently so there is no buildup of particles in the air. 

Thank you for being flexible as we navigate these ever-changing circumstances!

RSCDS 2020: The Pandemic Year So Far – Summer

Renfest Saga Continues During the Summer

The plan was to get through the AGM and then classes would resume as usual. But as spring blossomed into summer the COVID-19 caseload continued to climb, and Tapestry’s doors remained locked. Instead we “rezoomed” online meetings. Here’s a run-down of what went down.

June 1st. We looked to resume online gatherings with various kinds of content. “What content?” We shared ideas in a brainstorming session in advance of planning the upcoming classes.

June 8th. Chandi taught some SCD dances (dancing with ghosts) with post-it notes on the floor to mark out the set. New Year Jig, Bedrule, College Hornpipe, Catch the Wind.

June 14-15th.This was a real treat. We hosted a special class on a “Short History of Scottish Country Dance Music in the 20th Century” by Susie Petrov. Susie is an SCD teacher and musician based in the Boston area, who played for our Grand Ball 2016 along with Calum Pasqua.

The class was held in two parts: The main lecture (with slides, video, and audio clips!) was on Sunday, 1pm so that that SCDers world-wide could attend. That was followed up by a Q & A session at our regular branch class on Monday.

Susie showed us how Scottish country dance music has changed over the years, by playing some examples from the 19th & early 20th centuries; notably Strathspeys used to be lively jig-like dances.

When the Scottish Country Dance Society was formed in 1923, one of its founders was a director of the Glasgow music publishing house of Pattersons. He arranged for Beltona Records to record twelve sides of dance music for sale by the Society.  This was to help new branches that couldn’t afford to pay musicians, and raise funds for the Society.

Note: James Gray’s grandparents bought these records and used them when they held dances for their children in their home after WWII!

The Society expanded rapidly and so well did these acoustic records sell that in 1927 fresh recordings were made. The Society received a royalty payment for every record sold.

Note: This might be one explanation for the preponderance of recordings rather than the development of musicians over the years!

One unfortunate result of the influence of the Society would be an obsession with strict tempo that was a rather dead hand on most Scottish country dance bands. Bandleaders liked to play fast, but always slowed down if Miss Milligan was in the room. Susie posited the heretical idea that dances were modified to fit onto records: Two 2-minute quick-time dances on one side of a 45-rpm vinyl record and one 4 minute strathspey on the B-side, for which, coincidentally,  the Society received royalties.

June 22nd. Lara reviewed some setting steps and taught a couple of dances that needed “ghosts”. We started with a short and little known but traditional SCD that uses an unusual step called “cross jumps,” Miss Murray of Ochtertyre, and also danced the Garry Strathspey and the Drunken Sailor.

June 24th. News from Andi and Jeremiah that Sabine was born June 24. She was welcomed with an unparalleled, drive-by, social distance-y baby shower.

June 29th. Katie Brady taught us all about bagpipes, and addressed burning questions, including, “what exactly ARE all those bagpipers doing at the highland games?” She went over the instrument itself, some information about the music, and an explanation about bagpipe bands and competitions. This lecture was recorded. Contact Fer for a copy.

July 4th. Along the theme of “Vaguely Scottish Things in the 1700s,” we held an Independence Day weekend social hour, featuring a pub quiz. We grabbed a snack (or dinner), favorite beverage, paper and writing implement for: “Things Fer Found Interesting or Amusing While Messing Around on the Internet”

July 13th. We started an every-other-week review of the old/current performance repertoire with the 2-couple act – just in case RenFest was still on.

July 18th. Scottish Fair – the in-person highland games was canceled but we still got a taste of pieces of the Fair this year, even some parts you always missed since so many things usually happen at the same time! This year’s McCracken Pub shirt featured a Highland coo (masked). Chandi & Jacob led a dance from their backyard. And Fligmagearie performed … masks on a hot & humid day. As soon as the camera stopped they tore off their masks to gulp fresh air.

July 20th.  Everything you wanted to know about FODing & Fooling was presented by Bill Brown. The FOD is the Facilitator of the Day – the person in charge of running a performance. Whether or not you ever intend to FOD, it’s useful to know what’s involved so that you can help your FOD and be a source of joy rather than stress. The Fool is a master of ceremonies who introduces the dances and tells a story that connects the acts, to keep the audience’s attention while the dancers are changing over.

July 20th. We officially switched over to the new site! A HUGE thank you goes to Joe Dolson and Dan Friedman-Shedlov for working with Lara to make this happen. Joe was instrumental in getting the structure of the site set up and getting things to look how we wanted them, not to mention answering a million and one questions from Lara. Dan did almost all the work to find and set up new (free!) web hosting and to create the new online membership form that integrates payment.

July 21st. we had been waiting all year for an announcement about RenFest. Normally we would have started rehearsals the beginning of July

“Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Mid-America Festivals is pleased to make the following Royal Proclamations!

…….Mid America Festivals decided to change the dates of our 2020 Festival to September 5, 2020 thru October 4, 2020 (weekends plus Labor Day)….

And from Fud, the entertainment director:

“Entertainers – Let me assure you that no one is more aware of the fact that the Festival is scheduled to open in 39 days.  Thank you so much for your patience. I understand that the lack of communication has been frustrating; unfortunately there just hasn’t been any new and reliable information to pass along.

The covid-19 pandemic has created a variety of challenges that are compounded by the countless and complex subtleties and nuances of the Festival’s somewhat unique situation.  I have been working with management to clarify plans, especially as they pertain to entertainment and entertainers.

As soon as there is accurate information I will pass it along to you.”

July 27th. RenFest review. We used the “Retro Act” of the current performance repertoire to talk about reels of 3, reels of 4, and some strategies for envisioning how to do them when no one else is around. And then for fun, we risked set and link for 3 solo style – no one can tell which end of the line you’re on, so of course you got it right!

Aug 3rd. This Monday we had a special presentation from piper Dick Hensold! He described it as follows: Dronology: a short potted history of the bagpipes, as illustrated by several different types of pipe. And a few tunes, if desired. In lieu of any sort of monetary donation, he wanted help with some yard work. He needed people to move tiny decorative rocks from the alleyway to his backyard.

Aug 10th. We used the “3 couple act” of the current performance repertoire to wander around our living spaces and explore how lost one can get in only 12 bars while attempting a solo 3 couple rights and lefts. 

Aug 17th. Fer’s first dancing love was International Folk Dance, casual “village” dancing from around the world.  Think ceilidh dancing from places that don’t speak Gaelic.  She picked some dances from her IFD repertoire that lent themselves to warming up, cooling down, with some bouncing around to fun music in the middle. We tried out a new style of dancing in a venue where no one other than your cat could judge your “spontaneous variations”.

Aug 19th. Finally, the news we had been waiting for, Ren Fest had been cancelled! FUD, the Entertainment Director, stated that running a festival of the volume and scope of the MRF was not feasible while taking the precautions necessary to protect both the performers and patrons from Covid19. This was good news for us, as we could only raise enough dancers for one set on one or two days.

Aug 24th. We finished our review of the current performance repertoire with a look at the “interval” dance Harry Gordon.  It’s a medley of strathspey and reel with some of those fancy setting steps we worked on in the late spring.  Lara helped us to remember the fancy setting, and when we got to the figure La Baratte it really did take two to figure out what to do with your hands.

Aug 31st. Meg Newswanger hosted a Scottish vacation slide show.  We saw photos from Lara’s time as a student in Edinburgh including a “gentle walk” in the “hills”; Chandi & Jacob climbing a mountain in the rain and drinking with her cousin in the oldest pub; Fer’s dawn to dusk walk and her dream heather garden; Brian & Frances’ stunning photos from Skye; Meg & Rick’s trip to see their daughter; and Bill’s underwater photos of conger eels.

RSCDS 2020: The Pandemic Year So Far – HQ DSAH

Really Scary Covid-19 Disease Shutdown

Across the seas in bonnie Scotland, the RSCDS HQ came up with its own online programs.

Mar 27th:  SCDS launched the 1st edition of the newsletter “Dance Scottish At Home” containing:

  • A musical podcast by RSCDS Music Director Ian Muir.
  • The Thursday Challenge, inviting us to post our dancing stories.
  • A social media round up, with impressive virtual performances.
  • What’s Behind The Name, of dances and tunes.
  • A Moment In Scots History.
  • Quizzes and Puzzles.
  • The latest online class.

In my opinion this is the best publication the society has ever produced. Do you have a favorite section?

April 8th:  The RSCDS launched the first online class.  We will join a different RSCDS Teacher each week for a mixture of basic movements, warm ups, technique and steps, to keep active. Live every Wednesday at 19:00 UK time, (1pm Minnesota time) the class gave us the chance to dance with RSCDS members around the world at the same time. Classes have been watched by over a thousand people all over the world. Each week, the class will be recorded and shared through Dance Scottish At Home.

April 24th:  DSAH Issue 5: Twin Cities branch members were featured in this week’s RSCDS Dance Scottish at Home newsletter! Did you spot Brian and Frances Shirley in the photo from 1964? And Lara Friedman-Shedlov at her first workshop weekend, in costume for the demo team’s performance at the 1990 IVFDF Newcastle performance.

May 15th:  DSAH Issue 8: another Twin Cities branch connection. This week’s RSCDS online class teacher Ron Wallace (co-founder of our Twin Cities Branch, teacher, & bagpiper) took the class from Santa Rosa, California. He was joined by pianist Jared Bailey and dancer Gary Thomas (Twin Cities Branch teacher, Blue Ribbon editor). Ron took the class clearly through “Merry Meghan” – giving dancers a chance to manage a complete solo step dance.

In the “At Home PodcastRon Wallace took us behind the dance “Da Rain Dancin’” which he wrote for a tune by Muriel Johnson (11:01 – 18:39).

May 29th:  DSAH Issue 10: Ron Wallace and Gary Thomas were guests on “At Home Podcast”. In the first set (11:50 – 15:45) they played “The Oyster Gatherers”, “Amicitia” (Latin for “friendship”) and “Santa Rosa Welcome”. For the second set (31 – 35)  they played “Pounce De Leon” written for the dance Jezebel’s Jig, “Volga and Kazanka”, and “Rain On The Roof”. You must listen to them, they are amazing!

June 5th:  DSAH Issue 11: Ian Muir managed to lose 2 bars in editing Ron & Gary’s set, so this week in the “At Home Podcast”, he played the complete recording of “The Oyster Gatherers”, and “Amicitia”. Prizes to anyone who can spot the missing bars (9:33 – 13.28).

Sept 18th:  DSAH Issue 22: This week teacher Jamie Berg (Twin Cities Branch teacher) and her musician husband James Gray (played for us several times, most memorably the Blizzard Ball of 2018), were in Oslo, Norway bringing a lively mix of warm ups, dancing and balance exercises. 

James was playing old and new tunes, from “Humber Jumber”, recognized as the tune for The Frisky, through to more recent compositions by himself. Jamie tasked dancers to have 2 chairs and a drink and then used the chair both in her recently devised dance and her stretching cool down.

Challenging the dancers to name her dance, Jamie had a lot of ideas to choose from including “Chairish the Dance”, “Norwegian Wooden Chairs”, “10 legs and a musician”, “10 legged Jig”, “Reel Of The Wooden Chairs”, “The Lonely Goat Chaired”, “Addressing The Chair”, & “Chairman’s Jig” (James’ father is a past Chair of the RSCDS), “Jiggin’ Jamie with Joyful James”, “Viking Rag”, and “Finn’s Wake” (Three-year old Finn was asleep in the next room and let’s admit it, we all wanted him to come wandering in during the middle of the class).
Dancers also commented on how much fun they had in the class including Joanna who said “most of all, I totally forgot this is an online class! Thanks James and Jamie!”

***Breaking news: the winning name is “Norwegian Wooden Chairs”***

Watching Jamie and James was bittersweet, a reminder that our loss is the Scottish dance community’s gain. They are a talented couple who compose, teach and perform their own dances and music……the future of the RSCDS is lookin’ good!