Here’s Tae Us

It was our Christmas Ball tonight. Terribly grand, you know, the Scottish Country Dance Christmas Ball, with lots of complicated footwork and once figures.

Actually, the occasion is billed as the Family Dance, and never was a program more accessible. We’d walked quite a lot of it before in social groups, but you don’t get much more beginner-friendly than the dance selections we had tonight.

Even so, every year we make mention of this ball, and every year someone says ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ Well, tonight you’re getting a lesson, because us Scottish Country Dancers like our rhymes.

For instance, when dancing the poussette, the adage is:

Away from the centre, quarter turn,
Up or down, quarter turn;
Into the centre, halfway round,
Fall back, fall back.

And here, for reference, is the poussette, danced beautifully by more elegant people than us.

 

Remember, Away from the centre, quarter turn…

You watch even the experienced dancers still reciting it to one another as they go. We had a wonderful teacher who used to joke that they’d inscribe it on her headstone someday. (They probably will; she dances more than she doesn’t.)

Meanwhile, to dance crossover reels – that’s a reel of three on the opposite side of the set – the rhyme goes:

Ones dance over to begin,
Twos dance out,

And threes dace in.

As for the rest of it, you mostly grab the hands that get offered to you, keep alert to people advancing towards you, and it all sort of muddles out. Occasionally, when it’s done very well, it looks elegant while you’re at it. We’re working on that bit.

Currently we’re unwinding to today’s tea. It’s another tisane, and we’re not taking notes here, but surely there have been more herbal teas than anything else in this calendar? Readers at home, what do you think? This one it White Cranberry, wherein white chocolate meets dried cranberry, apple, raisins and papaya. The cat mug is once again earning it’s keep, now we’ve cracked how to use it without being scalded, and yields up a tea that is surprisingly tropical tasting. We’d blame the papaya, except we couldn’t actually taste it in the cup. The cranberry dominates, as you’d expect, while the white chocolate gives it a burst of sweetness.

The apple tempers both a bit, though we’re not sure the raisins come through. Honestly, there must be raisins in every second tea we sample, and we’re not clear why, because they really don’t steep well. Anyone who has ever soaked raisins in hot water for baking will probably understand this; not for nothing you have to add other stuff to a fruitcake to draw out their flavour!

So that’s tea and two wee verses for you, tonight. But the traditional way to close out a dance is with Burns. Specifically Auld Lang Syne. Only that’s for New Year, and that’s still a ways off. So instead, have Green Grow the Rashes, O. It makes for a lovely strathspey, but doubles as an equally enjoyable read – with or without tea.

Green Grow the Rashes, O
Robert Burns

Chor. – Green grow the rashes, O;
Green grow the rashes, O;
The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,
Are spent amang the lasses, O.

There’s nought but care on ev’ryy han’,
In ev’ry hour that passes, O:
What signifies the life o’ man,
An’ ‘there na for the lasses, O.
Green grow&c.

The war’ly race may riches chase,
An’ riches still may fly them, O:
An’ tho’ at last they catch them fast,
Their hearts can ne’re enjoy them, O.
Green grow &c.

But gie me a canine hour at at e’en,
My arms about my dearie, O;
An’ war’ly cares, an’ war’ly men,
May a’ gae tapsalteerie, O!
Green grow &c.  

For you sae douce, ye sneer at this;
Ye’re nought but senseless asses, O:
The wisest man the warl’ e’er saw,
He dearly lov’d the lasses, O.
Green grow, &c.

Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears
Her noblest works she classes, O:
Her prentice hand she try’d on man,
And then she made the lasses, O.
Green grow, &c.

Hopefully you have less trouble with the Scotts than did the glaikit computer, which made a braw, effort to translate it into garden-variety English. You, naturally, not being robotic, will notice it does that anyway on the last verse, spontaneously switching to High English instead of Scotts vernacular. The genius of Burns is arguably how fluidly he mixes both.

We’ll send you off now to dance the hours away as per yet another rhyme, or maybe just enjoy oddly tropical tea. Until tomorrow,

Here’s tae us!
Wha’s like us?
Gey few, and they’re a’ deid!

Sour Cherries and Jelly Doughnuts

Sweet Tart was the name of today’s tea, and it’s a bit of a misnomer. In fairness, the descriptor – that is, the little tagline under the name – marks it out as sour cherry, and that’s much nearer the mark. Let this tea sit and is it ever tart! It’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you’ve got a taste for that candied see cherry flavour. We’re actually more disconcerted by the presence of candy in the tea (why!?!) than by the tang of the tea.

It pours out pink, which we blame on the hibiscus. But the rest is all on those sour cherry candies, because just about all hibiscus does to tea is dye it and pack it with a shocking amount of vitamin C. Still, it’s a pleasant tea, and not a bad pick of an evening when you want something desert-ish and uncaffinated. Be sure to let it sit, though. At a weaker strength it just tastes of, well, pink.

We happened to drink two cups worth about late afternoon, before launching into a bit of Christmas baking. Ginger-molasses biscuits and Thumbprint Cookies, for the curious. Poems on that theme are a bit like hen’s teeth though, so we’ve done our best and are making do with Canadian Dennis Lee’s Jelly Doughnut instead. It’s probably about time we brought this blog some Canadian content in any case.

The Faithful Doughnut
Dennis Lee

Far across the ocean,
Far across the sea
My faithful jelly doughnut
Is waiting just for me.

It’s sugar shines with longing,
It’s icing glows with tears;
My doughnut has been waiting there
For 27 years.

Oh, faithful jelly doughnut,
I beg you don’t despair!
My teeth are in Toronto
But my heart is with you there.

For I will cross the ocean,
And I will cross the sea
And I will crush you to my lips
And make you one with me.

 

Dance Away the Hours Together

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It’s not quite the middle of night by the castle clock, and there aren’t any owls, this being Toronto, but it’s certainly late enough. We spent the evening out at the Christmas Dance for Toronto’s Scottish Country Dance set, and only sat out two dances. To say we’re still beginning, and didn’t know them all, that’s no small thing. We muddled some, and we stumbled through a few, but we’re terribly proud of the fact that we negotiated the Anniversary Dance – sprung on us a fortnight back without warning -almost without error. Our most egregious sin was slipping a right shoulder instead of left in a reel, and considering how confusing we found the dance when it first leapt out of the woodwork, this is a triumph of the highest order. Okay, it is if you’re us and if you understand about reels and slipping shoulders.

To make it make that much more sense to you, here’s our favourite of the dances to be getting on with. It’s a reel that goes to the name of Jessie’s hornpipe. They don’t here, as they did this evening, veer wildly into Christmas carols midway through, but no matter. At least our wittering will have a bit of context for you.

 

We’re relaxing now with Sleigh Ride tea, evidence that not all sweet teas are cloying. Hibiscus and beetroot make it pink, and there’s apple, cinnamon, and raisins in it among other things. Almond gives it a subtly nutty taste, and while this, like previous calendar teas in it, has coconut in it, it doesn’t overwhelm the tea. And because we lack a musical off-switch, we’re still humming Jessie’s hornpipe. It was the last dance of tonight’s set and a good note to end on.

Back in November when we went to a workshop, we were advised ‘Dancing is friendship set to music.’ This evening was a testament to that. We never wanted for partners, and whole sets were generous with advise, and gracious when we absolutely mangled the sequence. It’s a highly social thing, Scottish Country, which is why we love it so much. We’re not much good at improvised dancing. In fact we’re bad at all kinds of improv, whether it’s charades, dancing or those add-a-sentence stories. But Scottish Country Dance has steps, sequence, and always you’re in conversation with someone. Don’t know where to go? Look at your partner. Waiting in fourth place? Look up the set to the dancing couple. It’s not Austen’s dances exactly, but nor is it a far cry from them either. And dancing them, we can well see why so many of her set pieces hinge on dances.

With that in mind, here’s another Pat Batt poem, all about what to do when dancing. a Scottish Country Dance, and how to spot those of us who know what we’re doing (or even just look like we do).

Eyes Right!

Part Batt

If you ask the question
How to know a Scottish Dancer
It’s really very simple
For there only is one answer.

The easy way to spot him
Is his roving, rolling eye,
And if you don’t believe me –
Well, I will tell you why.

He has one eye on his partner
And one eye on the set,
He has to watch a lot more things
I haven’t mentioned yet.

He has to cover up and down
And watch his teacher too –
How else is he supposed to learn
The footwork he must do?

One eye swivels to his corner,
One eye squints along the line –
When he’s completely cross-eyed
The you know he’s doing fine!

And often you will notice
A fleeting, haunted glance –
That’s when he copies someone else
Who really knows the dance.

Well there’s the explanation – but
I’ll tell you one thing more –
There’s one place where he must not look –
and that is at the floor.

(Previously published in Reel 229)

Back in Scotland the only way to end a dance was hands joined, singing Auld Lang Syne -crossed arms on the last verse. We didn’t do it this evening -Scottish Country is much too refined for that – but it doesn’t feel right to close the night without it. So here’s a second poem as we make up the difference. We bet you know it, but maybe not all the verses.

Auld Lany Syne

Robert Burns

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

Chorus.-For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
For auld, &c.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
Sin’ auld lang syne.
For auld, &c.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne.
For auld, &c.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.
For auld, &c.

 

A Round Reel of Poetry: Tea for Accompaniment

It’s elegance meets….well the slightly less elegant tonight, as you’re getting tea and a verse with a dose of tartan. Though next to the ceilidhs we learned on, Scottish Country is the elegant cousin, so it’s not too amiss. Mondays are our dancing evening, and we’re strongly tempted to land you with Mairi’s Wedding, because we’ve not done that one yet here, and it would fit the pattern of our day. You’re not getting it, because it drives us fairly batty, even sung.

Besides, we’re sipping Silver Dragon Pearls tonight, and really, there are limits. Sometimes this Advent Calendar comes through in high style, and a tea this delicate, floral -and yes, high-grade -really deserves dignified accompaniment. Alas, we never claimed to be dignified. And since we’re still thinking in reels and jigs, you’re getting a wee verse about Scottish Country Dancing, no names given. Trust us; it’s much funnier this way.

Black_Watch_-_Campbell_tartan

A New Dance

Part Batt

Guess who’s written a brand new dance,
With a brand new figure in it,
Not easy to learn – but worth a try,
As you’ll hear, if you give me a minute.

It is, of course, a “meanwhile” dance
And sounds, perhaps, complex,
But it’s quite straightforward as long as you know
Your number, your partner, and sex.

Threes and fours on the opposite side –
You’ll find it better that way.
You’ve curtsied and bowed, so now get set
And cross your fingers and pray!

An inverted rondel is how it begins
And then the new figure you’ll see
With simple instructions on sheets 1 and 2
And diagrams 1, 2 and 3.

Two highland settings, a knotted barette,
And end in the form of a square.
Crossing reels, look behind you, and with any luck
You’ll find that your partner is there.

Your partner is there, but ignore him or her,
The pattern now subtly alters –
You grab someone else and all promenade round
Backwards – but only three quarters.

The Mic-Mac Rotary bit comes next,
You loop and you loop again,
A quadruple figure of eight, and then
A five-and-a-half-bar chain.

A two-and-a-half-bar turn ends the dance,
An experience no one should miss.
Wherever, whenever, whatever you’ve danced
You’ve never met something like this!

I hope you enjoy it – I think that you will –
And I do hope you think it’s alright
To give yo this preview of what he might dream
When he’s having a very bad night!

(Previously published in Reel 204)

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After all that, you’re getting Mairi’s Wedding after all. If nothing else, it will give you a flavour of what all those verses are on about. It was also the first Scottish Country Dance we ever had thrown at us, and if you can look at it and tell us even one way in which that makes sense, we’ll bow to your wisdom. Personally, we’re still boggled.