Deep in the Kurski area of Moscow, in the âWorld of Danceâ studio Mikhail Smagin, a certified Royal Scottish Country Dance Society teacher is taking a group of Russian and foreign dancers through their paces. Lines of dancers swirl around each other in various patterns, then somehow find their way back to their first dance partner. As long as each performer remembers his or her steps, a formation of dancers gradually progresses up and down the dance hall. If one or more dancers forget where they are, there is a danger of the dance ending in communal hysterics. This seemed to be excusable bearing in mind the fact that dancers are also hopping, stomping or waltzing their way along, according to the step for each danceâs particular choreography.
The music, or reels which are arranged as continuous pieces of music, which repeats itself every 8, 16, 32 or even 48 bars, have exotic names such as The Bees of Maggieknockater, or The Belle of Bon Accord. Experienced dancers seem to know instinctively when to turn and twirl, when to throw an understanding nod or smile to their partners. Such freedom of expression within the restrained framework of this kind of dance can take a while to achieve. Fascinated by what I had seen when I visited this group to research this article, I came back a week later to take part. In the space of a couple of hours, even a complete beginner like me who doesnât even know how to waltz, could at least end up facing the right direction, even if facing the wrong partner.
Olga Ivanova, also a Scottish-qualified Royal Scottish Country Dance Society teacher, and one of the leaders of this group told me in a Russian accent which transformed into a Scottish accent as the dance class progressed: âIn our school you can join the classes at any time during the year. The first part of each rehearsal is all about technique, so those who are experienced can perfect their dance, and those who are new can learn. We always try to accommodate a newcomer by choosing easier dancers. The important thing is that a novice starts feeling comfortable from step one.â As confidence grows and the dancer begins to grasp the difference between âThe White Heather Jigâ and âNighean Donnâ, for example, the prospect of performing at one of the events organised by the St. Andrews Society which this group grew out of in 1993 â such as the St. Andrews ball and the Burns Night Supper â presents itself. Dancing in public is not compulsory however and is left for those who feel totally comfortable about donning sashes, kilts and dancing ghillies, and parading themselves in front of mostly drunk expat Scotland-related audiences.
Scottish Country Dancing is a social dance, and although the dancing is carried out to unmistakably Scottish music, the dance routines can be traced back hundreds of years to English country dancing, contra dancing, cÃ¨ilidh dancing and Irish set dancing. It is a great way to meet Russians, and is basically a lot of fun. Said Galina, one of the more proficient dancers: âI like this because it is group dancing, not just for two people, it brings people together. I have been dancing here for three years, and have made a lot of friends; in fact I met my husband here.â All age groups from 15 upwards were present at the rehearsals, and the teaching is in English when there are dancers who donât speak Russian. âScottish Country dancing is practiced all over the world,â explained Olga who received an MBA in St. Andrews. âSo if I get to go on a business trip, I take my dancing shoes, because there is always a club nearby. We welcome people who come on business to Moscow, we get emails from Scots, for example, who ask if they can come to our class because they are in town for a week or so on business. We have branches in Perm and Voronezh, as people from those cities join our classes when they are in Moscow. All the figures and formations haveÂ English or rather Scottish names, like the dances themselves. Me and Mikhail, who trained to become instructors in Scotland had to pass our exams in English.â
Olga also mentioned some specifics about Scottish Country Dancing: âunlike other dances such as waltz or tango, you donât need to have a constant dance partner, so you will still have somebody to dance with if your partner canât come to rehearsals. You are a member of team, we have even done team building events using Scottish Country Dancing because if one of six or eight dancers canât get it right, the whole dance is ruined. Itâs a great way to train social skills such as eye contact; there are so any aspects of Scottish Country dancing which are applicable to everyday life.â
Most of all, this is something completely different and is thoroughly enjoyable.
Classes are held in Moscow on Sundays from 5pm-7pm and cost 200 roubles, to cover the cost of the hall.