Thursday, May 26, 2011

DVD Review: Scottish Step Dancing with Dannsa

One of the things I enjoy most about receiving the newsletters from Music Scotland and Foot Stomping Celtic Music is that they pitch products I'd never think to look for, but might be of interest to me.

Recently this happened when one of them advertised a new DVD, Learn to Scottish Step Dance with Dannsa. The name itself piqued my curiosity, so I ordered it and eagerly awaited its arrival.

In summer 2003, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival featured Scotland, and one of the acts - the Mitchellson Brothers, discussed the various forms of Scottish dance. What struck me was their claim that there were still a few exponents of old Scottish step-dancing left in Scotland, independent of Cape Breton, and they demonstrated the ever so subtle differences between the two. I wondered, in ordering this DVD, if this might be the almost-lost Scottish form, or if the differences would be discussed.

Alas, that was not the case. This was straight-up Cape Breton style step dancing, just as taught by Scottish dancers and instructors Caroline Reagh & Sandra Robertson, accompanied by Fin Moore (son of the pipe-maker Hamish) on the reel pipes, who make up the ensemble Dannsa. But don't let that deter you! In the extras section, we are told precisely why they consider this dance form to be Scottish, perhaps preserved in Cape Breton, but still authentically Scottish. And whatever its ultimate provenance, it looked like a lot of fun to dance!

The DVD starts with a section on warmups, and then goes independently through the various steps for Strathspey, reel, and jig dancing. The most basic step is shown first, and then variants are discussed. Demonstrations begin with Fin playing for the dancer at tempo, and we see the dancer from the front, going through all the steps in the section in succession. Then each individual step is broken down at slower tempos, first from a frontal close-up view of the feet, then rear and side views, while verbal instruction is offered in the form of a voice-over. Eventually the tempo increases and we see the dance at full tempo again, still zoomed in on the feet.

Now I have to say, I have two left feet. Prior to taking a few Scottish Country Dance classes this fall, the only dance I could do was the Breton An Dro (and that's a pretty simple one!). But this DVD is perfect for the beginner with little coordination - one can watch the step over and over, repeat as necessary, until one gets it. I'm still mastering the basic reel and jig steps, but I'm not daunted by the difficulty, since the DVD successfully portrayed the step in a manner I can understand and, if imperfectly and slowly, repeat. I figure if I do 10,000 more steps, I'll get the hang of it!

One thing you have to remember when practicing is to wear the right shoes. Dress shoes with a low square heel are necessary - hiking boots and tennis shoes just aren't the right shape! In my case, I pulled out some 18th century style buckle shoes I use when I do living history, and they were perfect for the job.

All in all, if one is interested in learning Scottish/Cape Breton step, and doesn't have an instructor handy, I can't recommend this DVD more highly. It might even be worth it for Fin's piping alone. And, given some time, some effort and some floor, one might soon have a few steps of one's own to put to it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tunes from the May Fiddle Club Jam

As it happens, I had asked my girlfriend to bring my contribution to the fiddle club potluck, a roasted leg of lamb, so she could join us and hang out at the jam. But due to circumstances outside her control - a faulty meat thermometer and an oven thermostat that's not to be trusted - the lamb arrived quite late, and the jam began with some tunes to hopefully speed it along:

Sheep Running About
Cheap Mutton
Ram's Horns
The One Horned Sheep
The Moffat Ram
The Lambing Storm
A Yowe Cam to wir door Yarmin
Da Blue Yowe
Ewie with a Crookit Horn

And, after long last, the leg of lamb arrived! So we took a break for a dessert of meat, and returned to our tunes:

Lochanside/High Drive
Trip to Pakistan/The Fourth Floor
Sean Truibhas/Tam Lin
Jig by William Gillis/Stool of Repentance/Sailor's Wife/Grace Hay's Delight
The Nuptial Knot/The Wedding of Fair Ian's Sister
North Highland Dance
(the 9/8 from Patrick McDonald)
Skye Air/The Quarryman/9 Pint Coggie (Laura Risk's)

Thanks to everyone for the tunes, and to Amy for the lamb!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tartan Day Debate: Authenticity

By way of Scott Morrison:

Hello all. This is a video of a debate that was held last month in Antigonish, Nova Scotia about the authenticity of Tartan kilts, highland games and festivals and whether or not they represent an authentic connection to the greater Scottish Gaelic speaking community and cultural representation. Michael Newton (the man who posted and participated in the videos) is the only non-native Canadian on the pannel (he being an American) sent us this link. It is a good "debate" (more like a friendly discussion really) and presents very valid views and points on both sides. It is in 6 parts and you will need a good 45-55 min to watch it all. I hope you enjoy it! :)

"North Loch"/"Gin I Had a Bonny Lass"

Patrick Wamsley gives us some more information about "North Loch"/"Gin I Had a Bonny Lass", which Elke taught this last weekend:


[Edinburgh] was walled in 1460, and part of the wall acted as a dam forming The North Loch . . . . After 300 years, the loch was permanently drained in stages, first in 1763 to help build the North Bridge, and the final drainage in the early 19th century. It was much used for fishing, though given old Edinburgh's standards of sanitation, this must have been playing Russian roulette with food poisoning. The city abattoir was beside it for its entire existence, on the site now occupied by the Lothian Region Transport office on Waverley Bridge; wastes from slaughtering were simply dumped in the water. During the great idol-smashing of 1560, the Reformers sent the statue of St Giles from the High Kirk the way of a century's putrefied offal; then they pulled it out again and burnt it just to make sure. In 1562, one particularly deep part was designated for ducking fornicators. "The North Loch" was first published by Robert Bremner (c.1713-1789) in the 1750s.

It is also known from Ireland, as "The Lucky Lover;" lucky not to make too close an acquaintance with the loch, perhaps. It was later reprinted in Lowe's Collection as "Gin I had a Bonny Lass, Little Sleep Wad Sair Me" and as "Gin I had a Bonny Lassie" in the later Athole and Kerr collections.