Scottish country dancing in the Ribble Valley: Tradition, fitness, and fun

Travellers from Europe brought ring dancing to Scotland in Medieval times, dances which celebrated the harvest and echoed with pride in tribal histories.

Friday, 20th September 2019, 3:50 pm
Updated Friday, 20th September 2019, 4:50 pm
RSCDS Ribble Valley Branch Summer Ball

In 1580, King James VI of Scotland is said to have paid a princely sum of £100 for dance lessons, while the court of Mary Queen of Scots was famed for its dancing, showcasing the Pas de Basques, the Poussette, the Allemande.

Planted in fertile cultural soil, Scottish country dancing has historic roots stretching back centuries.

In 1923, Ysobel Stewart and Jean Milligan established the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (RSCDS) to promote the cultural value of Scottish country dancing and to encourage increased participation.

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The group's Spring Dance

The concept took off like wildfire. Now an international organisation which earned royal patronage in 1951, the society has gone from strength to strength with hundreds of branches dotting the world, including the Ribble Valley branch.

Having held their inaugural dance in August 1994, welcoming around 80 dancers to a packed-out Grimsargh Village Hall, the Ribble Valley branch recently celebrated their 25th anniversary with celebratory dance event at Plungington Community Centre at which founders Ken and Lavinia Morris were present.

Now boasting around 60 members, the group is thriving.

“Scottish country dancing is a wonderful way to keep fit both physically and mentally for all ages,” said one of the four chairs of the group, Joan Thompson. ​“There are new dances being written all the time; it’s very much a living tradition, and you don’t need a partner to give Scottish country dancing a go, just some soft shoes.”

The group's founding members including Lavinia and Ken Morris (third and fourth from left)

Joan has danced for over 60 years. Growing up in Orpington (then Kent, now in Greater London) with a Scottish mother who was part of the local Caledonian society, Joan was heavily involved in her Scots heritage from the age of seven and has danced ever since. She even met her husband at a dance in Manchester and has been part of the Ribble Valley RSCDS branch since 2004.

“We’ve just run a taster session, so we’ve had plenty of new people turn up,” said Joan of the group. “We’re really friendly, and it keeps you fit; if I go out for an evening of dancing, my heart rate can get up to 120.

“But not only does it keep you physically fit, it keeps you mentally fit as well,” added Joan. “You’ve got to be thinking about what you’re doing.”

The group, a registered charity, runs three weekly classes for beginners (Sundays at Euxton Community Centre), advanced dancers (Wednesdays at Goosnargh Village Hall), and for all abilities (Mondays at Christ Church Hall, Fulwood) and hold a spring dance, a summer ball, an autumn dance, and a Hogmanay party dance every year.

Not ones to miss the chance to pay homage to Scottish country dancing’s past, they also go on trips to the historic home of the art-form they love, having travelled Scotland as far and wide as Ayr, Oban, and Inverness. An excellent way to stay active and sharp, the society also provides a welcoming social setting for those involved, as well as the invaluable chance to travel with like-minded people.

“We’ve danced around the world - in Florida, in New Zealand: anywhere the Scots have gone, you can find Scottish country dancing,” said Joan. “Plus Japan. The Japanese are really quite keen and very precise. We’ve been to winter school in Pitlochry three or four times, and there are always Japanese people there. It’s fascinating to be there with them and see how they learn it.”

From Glasgow to Preston to the Land of the Rising Sun, Scottish country dancing certainly has plenty more history to make.

Those interested (the group has no children’s classes) can get in touch with Joan via email at [email protected]