The Darling Diversion: The History of Scottish Country Dancing 

(by Tracy Antley-Olander, based on The Darling Diversion by Evelyn M. Hood)

Scottish Country Dancing as we know it today has a long and fascinating history, dating to before the Norman invasion. Like so many early cultures, the Scots regarded dancing as an integral part of their ceremonies and festivals. They danced ring dances, reels, pantomimes, and the like.

Although the Saxons may have added influences to Scottish dancing, the real and enduring influences were Norman, and their descendants the French. The Normans brought couple dancing to the north. When James V of Scotland married Marie deGuise in 1524, his new French wife brought all her country's dance influences to her rough new home, including the bow and curtsey and several figures, such as advance and retire.

In a small country like Scotland, ruled primarily through the clan system, what the laird did his people did. Scottish country dancing influences traveled from court to countryside, from hall to barn, and back again. During the time the Scottish court fled to France in the mid 1600s, Scottish country dancing acquired the ballet-like footwork we see today. The same French court roots that created what we call ballet added an important aspect to Scottish dancing. By the end of the 17th century, dancing was all the rage. As the 18th century drew to mid-century, great Balls were held in England and Scotland. Scottish country dances were quite popular. Dancing masters taught children and adults in cities and hamlets. Even the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his brave Scots at the Battle of Culloden in 1745 did not dampen enthusiasm for Scottish dancing. By the end of the century, things Scottish were increasingly popular, including its music, dances, and poetry. The 19th century saw a blossoming of dancing. Everyone wanted to dance well; it was the mark of a lady or gentleman. Dances we do today were already old favorites, some dating from 1750. The waltz and quadrille began encroaching on the more technical country dances as the century wore on, and intimacy between couples replaced the spirit of the dances done in sets.

By the 20th century, Scottish country dancing had all but faded to the rural halls. Modern dances such as the two-step and fox-trot joined with the waltz to dominate dances. Then a small group of individuals began seeking out old dances and music. Led by Miss Jean Milligan and Mrs. Stewart of Fasnacloich, they formed the Scottish Country Dance Society in Glasgow, Scotland in 1923.

The Society sought out old versions of dances, talked with elderly people who had danced in their youth, and gradually standardized footwork, figures, and dances. Now, the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (Royal was bestowed on the Society by King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II's father) has branches and clubs worldwide. New figures have been devised, and hundreds of new dances written. You can go to many cities in the world and do the same figures you dance in Seattle. Truly, SCD is an international dance society where those who love the music, the grace, the happy social spirit can gather to dance the traditional dances of Scotland, the darling diversion.

The Story of SCD: The Darling Diversion. by Evelyn M. Hood. History of SCD. Collins, 1980.