Tips for Your First Social Dance (RSCDS style)

Asking a partner to dance:

  • To ask someone to dance, say “Would you like to dance?” or “May I have this dance?” Extend a friendly hand and meet your potential partner’s eye. Once your partner agrees to dance with you, it’s polite to ask which side they’d like to dance on.
  • Don’t be afraid to be the one asking someone else to dance. Men can ask women, women can ask men, women can ask women, and men can ask men.
  • If you’d like to be asked to dance, don’t cluster and chatter with your friends. Instead, keep your body language open and make eye contact and smile as other dancers approach.
  • If you’re experienced, look for newer dancers to ask; if you’re inexperienced, look for someone skilled who will help you level up.
  • Try to dance with different partners throughout the night, both old friends and visitors you’ve never met. Moving to the diagonally opposite side of the dance hall is a great way to shake things up between dances and meet new people.
  • It is frowned upon to say no when someone asks you to dance unless you’re sitting out that dance. But if someone happens to say no to you, know the rudeness is their problem and not yours.
  • Even if you came with a partner, only dance one or two dances with that person (often the first dance, a favorite elsewhere in the set, and the last waltz). In most areas, it’s frowned upon to pre-book many (or any) dances ahead.

Forming sets:

  • Sets should form after the dance is announced or music begins. Clear the floor when no dance is in progress.
  • Join lines at the end, not the middle or top, to avoid disrupting other couples. Don’t walk through lines when finding your place on the floor.
  • Throughout the night, be sure to dance in different sets and different parts of the dance floor. It’s frowned upon to always rush to be the couple closest to the music (although if you’re inexperienced, that area is likely better than the bottom, where more tentative dancers tend to congregate).
  • The top couple counts off sets before dancing begins. Remain stationary in lines while sets form for easy counting. Ladies waiting for their partners should move to the gentlemen’s side for ease of counting. If there aren’t enough couples to form the final set, the top couple will raise the appropriate number of fingers to ask for more couples. If you’ve chosen to sit out this dance because it’s too hard for you, don’t feel pressured into dancing to make up the final set.


  • Remain quiet and listen during recaps (talk-throughs), even if you know the dance. If there’s a walk-through, be assertive and ask to be placed first to try out the dance if you’re feeling uncertain of your skills. It’s also handy to tell your partner you feel uncertain so they can cue you if you look confused. Alternatively, especially if there’s no walk-through, you can ask the set if they mind placing you at the bottom so you can watch the dance a few times before you become the active couple.
  • Dancing stops immediately if someone is injured. Otherwise, partners dance the full dance together once accepted. Do not leave your set!
  • Use eye contact throughout the dance to get cues from other dances if you’re uncertain. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner, “What’s next?!”
  • If the dance falls apart, don’t rush through past figures and try to catch up. If possible, don’t stop dancing either. Instead, figure out where you should be at a certain point in the music by watching other dancers, then start from that position. In general, when you make a mistake, a good rule of thumb is: Better never than late!
  • Be alert throughout the dance, being ready to step up or down as a supporting couple and to assist elderly or less experienced dancers. Adjust your dancing as needed to ensure everyone in your set enjoys themselves, prioritizing safety. Give cues as necessary to keep the set dancing (eye contact or gestures are better than verbal cues for many), but don’t assume one mistake means your partner needs a constant stream of commentary. We all mess up!
  • Maintain a pleasant, friendly, and inclusive atmosphere through mixing, smiling, and good spirits.
  • Most importantly — have fun!

(With thanks to a variety of sources from whom these tips were drawn.)

Introduction to Scottish Country Dancing and Demonstrations

Looking for something fun and different for your next group or club meeting, class or family reunion, business offsite, or other gathering? Why not try Scottish Country Dancing?

Beginner dance classes

Introductory Lessons: The Flying Ghillies are available to teach one- to two-hour introductory lessons in Scottish Country Dancing to groups of eight or more adults or teenagers. Scottish Country Dancing fosters teamwork, is good exercise for the body and the brain, and (most importantly) is great fun.


  • At least eight adult or teenaged participants
  • A smooth, flat, clean floor approximately 20 x 16 feet for every eight participants (hardwood floors preferred, but any smooth floor with good traction – linoleum, low-pile carpet, etc – will work)
  • Indoor, climate-controlled rooms preferred
  • Electric power for our sound equipment

Participants should wear soft-soled shoes and loose, comfortable clothes that don’t restrict movement. While Scottish Country Dancing can be pretty vigorous, anyone who can walk at a brisk pace will be able to enjoy our introductory classes.

Flying Ghillies demo team

Our Performance Team is also available for demonstrations at private and public events. In addition we have and will continue to perform at International and Celtic Gatherings as well as nursing homes and other venues.

We do normally charge a fee based on the number of performances, but this may be reduced or waived in certain circumstances.

We request 4 weeks notification for preparation and, along with the above requirements, need the following:

  • date(s) – Please pick 2-3 dates (preferred and backup possibilities).
  • time(s) – bear in mind a number of our dancers work.
  • duration of the performance
  • specific location
  • a point of contact (name/email/phone number).

We will try to accommodate all requests. However, we will need a minimum of six of our dancers and a good number of them work full time. For these reasons, we request you focus on evenings or weekends.

So What do We Mean by Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced?

From time to time we have special classes, workshops, and dances that we identify as either “basic,” “intermediate,” or “advanced.” You might be wondering what we mean by those terms, and how to tell whether or not one of those events is right for you. While there are no official definitions of basic, intermediate and advanced dancers in the Scottish Country Dancing lexicon, what follows are some guidelines you may find useful.

A basic Scottish Country Dancer is still becoming comfortable with the five basic steps and the formations listed below for intermediate dancers. Basic dancers often need to walk a dance through at least once from more than one position to learn it and will likely need help to recover from a mistake.

Scottish Country Dance

An intermediate Scottish Country Dancer is comfortable with the five basic steps and the formations listed below. By “comfortable,” we mean that if asked to dance any of the below formations, intermediate dancers would be able to do so with only a brief reminder. Intermediate dancers can usually learn a dance of moderate complexity (ex: The Montgomeries Rant, Mrs Stewart’s Jig, Monymusk and similar dances) by watching one couple walk it through. Intermediate dancers can usually recover from mistakes on their own.

Formations intermediate dancers should know include:
Advance and retire
Back to back
Balance in line
Chain formations: grand chain, grand chain for three couples, ladies’ chain
Corner formations: turn corners and partner, set to and turn corners, set to corners
Cross over
Double triangles
Figure of eight
Hands across
Hands round and back
Lead down the middle and up
Petronella turn
Pousette (in reel and jig time)
Promenade for three couples
Reels of three
Rights and lefts
Setting in line
Stepping up and down

Flying Ghillies demo teamAn advanced Scottish Country Dancers is proficient at the five basic steps and the intermediate formations, has learned additional steps like the Highland Schottische and Glasgow Highlanders setting steps and is comfortable with additional formations like the strathspey pousette, reels of four, the knot and others. By “proficient,” we mean that if asked to dance any of the intermediate formations, advanced dancers would be able to do so without a reminder and with good footwork, handing, phrasing, covering and teamwork. Advanced dancers can usually learn a dance of moderate complexity from a talk through or by reading the text description and cannot only recover quickly from their own mistakes but help less experienced dancers recover.

We have one additional level of dancer: Teacher. Teachers meet the above guidelines for advanced dancers and have completed at least Part 1 of the two-part teacher certification process of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. In addition to dancing at an advanced level, teachers have been specifically trained to teach Scottish Country Dancing and to evaluate other dancers’ level of ability and development needs.

If in doubt about what level class you should be in, ask one of your teachers! Happy dancing!

Our original dances

Want to enjoy dances created by and for dancers of Ohio? Then check out The Swelterin’ Strathspey and The July 28th Jig.

Flying GhilliesThe Swelterin’ Strathspey 3/3L · S32

Devised by: Andy May, Atia Huff, Gary Lindsey, Joyce Lindsey, Patty Lindsay, Nora Kindness, and Lee Fuell.

1–8:  1c+3c DblFig8 around 2c (1c crossing in, 3c cast up)
9–16: 1c+2c+3c set, cross RH ; set, cross LH
17–24: 1c lead down the middle and back, ending with 2c ready for)
25–32: 1c+2c ½Poussette ; 1c+3c ½Poussette

Scottish Country dancingThe July 28th Jig 3/3L · J32

Devised by: Else DeJong, Atia Huff, Stephen Huff, Joyce Lindsey, Patty Lindsay, Nora Kindness, Lee Fuell.

1–8: 1c+2c ½RHA, cross RH ; repeat
9–16: 1c cross RH, cast (2c up) ; turn LH to join RH with 1cnr
17–24: BiL, 1c turn 1¼ LH to join RH with 2cnr ; BiL, 1c turn LH into 2pl in middle and 3c step in
25–32:  1c+3c Poussette.


Flying Ghillies Ball Survival Guide

So you’re going to a Scottish Country Dance ball! Congratulations! If you’ve been to one before, you might have a pretty good idea what to expect. However, if you’ve never been to a ball, you might be wondering what to expect when you get there. What follows are some hints from your teachers, based on our experience, that we hope you will find helpful.

Before you go: One question we often get from first-time ball attendees is, “What should I wear?” Well, we don’t have “fashion police” patrolling SCD events and issuing citations for improper dress, but there are some general guidelines you can follow. Regardless of the formality of the event, for women it’s very important that whatever you wear allow you full freedom of movement for dancing. A dance event called a “ball” is usually formal, which means black tie for men and a formal of some kind for the ladies, but a jacket and tie for men and party dress/skirt for women are fine, also. Sometimes even for an event called a “ball,” less formal attire may be specified, like “semi-formal.” Other SCD events, such as a semi-formal evening dance or an afternoon dance (“tea dance”), are less formal. Men often wear a jacket and tie to a semi-formal dance, and an open-collar shirt to a tea dance. Ladies might wear a party dress to a semi-formal dance, and a casual skirt and blouse to a tea dance. But these are just guidelines based on common practice, not “rules.” As we say, “It’s not important what you wear, it’s just important that you’re there.”

When you get there: If the event offers pre-registration and you have already paid, there will probably be a registration table of some kind where you can sign in and, for some events, be handed a booklet of briefs for the dances on the program (but this isn’t universal). If there is no pre-registration, you will have to pay admission on arrival. How this is handled varies; in The Flying Ghillies, it’s usually on the honor system with a basket to put your money in. You’ll want to hang up your coat somewhere and find a chair along the wall to sit down in to change into your dance shoes (street shoes usually wind up under the chairs). Sometime before the scheduled start time of the ball, the band will usually play some march tempo music to which you can do a warmup walk. There might even be an organized “Grand March.” It is unusual to have any organized stretching at a social event (unlike a class), so if you want to stretch before the dance, be sure to arrive well before the appointed start time.

Scottish Dance musicThe dance begins: After the warmup marches, the Master of Ceremonies (MC) will invite the dancers to form sets. Sometimes, that will be preceded by the band playing eight bars or so of the lead tune for the upcoming dance. The MC will tell you what kind of set to form, and how many people should be in the set, and the name of the dance (i.e., “Please form four-couple longways sets for Campbell’s Frolic”). It helps to pay attention to the MC’s instructions so the sets can be formed quickly with minimal milling about. Sets should be formed by couples from the top of the room down. It is considered bad manners to cut in front of a couple already in the set, so new couples should join existing sets at the bottom. It is also frowned upon to join the set as a single dancer – one should ask another dancer to dance, then join as a couple. And who does the asking? Anyone! Men can ask ladies to dance, ladies can ask men, ladies can ask ladies, and (least common) men can ask men.

During the dance: In SCD, if you take the floor for a dance, it is best if you either know the dance, or are reasonably confident you can do the dance from a brief, or have been assured that your partner can “get you through it.” If you aren’t sure about a dance, or the program indicates the dance is recommended for experienced dancers only, consider sitting it out. If asked, responses like, “I’d like to sit this one out” or “Can I give you a rain check for a later dance?” are perfectly acceptable and often heard. AND, don’t let yourself be coerced on to the floor by the MC saying, “We need one more couple!” Many of us at some point in our dancing careers have identified “bathroom dances” on a ball program. (A “bathroom dance” is one where we you retreat to the bathroom until after the dance starts to avoid having to decline a request to dance or have your arm twisted into a dance you don’t feel up to.) And on that note, it helps to familiarize yourself somewhat with the program before the dance starts. You don’t have to memorize the program or every dance, and no one will be upset if you make a mistake on the floor (we all do), but it will help if you have an idea of what dances you might want to sit out and know when they are coming up. The ball program is often posted on the walls of the dance hall, and will be in that booklet of dance briefs you may have gotten on arrival, so occasionally checking either will help you keep track of what is coming next. If in doubt about whether you should attempt a dance on an upcoming program, ask your teacher. In North American SCD, the common practice is to give a verbal recap, or “brief,” of a dance before it starts. On rare occasions, for obscure or especially difficult dances, the dance may be walked through once before it is danced. However, this is the exception to common practice and will likely only happen once or twice on a ball program, if at all. Dancers should stand quietly in sets and listen to the briefing. After the briefing, the band will play a chord for dancers to bow or curtsy to their partners and the dance will begin. After the dance is over, there will be another chord for bow and curtsy, and normal practice is to thank your partner and others in the set for the dance and wait until the band plays or the MC announces the next dance before forming new sets.

Mistakes: Everybody makes them. When (not if) you make a mistake in a dance, just smile and do your best to get to where you need to be to start the next phrase or round of the dance. If anyone criticizes you for making a mistake, they are the one in the wrong, not you! If you find yourself lost, it will help to keep your head up and look at your partner or the other dancers in the set. If they are experienced dancers and good at helping others, they will give you subtle, preferably nonverbal, cues as to what comes next and/or where you need to be. If all else fails, go to the position you will be in at the end of this round of the dance and wait for the next round to start. If that fails, drop to the bottom of the set and wait there for the new top couple to start
the next round of the dance.

The Inviolable Rule of SCD: If you aren’t having fun, you aren’t doing it right. Just relax and enjoy the great music and good company! This is a social event, not a performance!

Miss Nora Kindness

Miss Nora Kindness

It is with great sadness that I inform the dancing community that Nora passed away peacefully at her home Friday July 18, 2008 at the age of 87.

A founding member of the Scottish Dance Society of Cincinnati in 1958, Nora Kindness did everything that she could to encourage and promote Scottish Country Dancing in Cincinnati, OH. She became the group’s teacher within the first few meetings and in order to improve her own high standards of teaching and dancing, travelled to Canada to attend classes and workshops, when none were available nearby. In 1967 she obtained her RSCDS Teacher’s Certificate.

Nora KindnessNora was a 2003 recipient of a Scroll of Honour in recognition of her many years of service and outstanding loyalty to the RSCDS, for her contributions in preserving the standards and traditions of Scottish country dancing, and for her joyous encouragement of young and old alike to increase their knowledge and enjoyment of Scotland’s heritage of dance and music.

A Memorial Service will be held at Norwood Presbyterian Church, 4400 Floral Ave. Norwood, Ohio 45212 @ 10:00a.m. Saturday, July 26th 2008.

An obituary will appear in the Cincinnati Enquirer Wednesday, July 23rd 2008. Memorials maybe directed to the charity of one’s choice. Naegele, Kleb & Ihlendorf Funeral Home serving the family.

You can share in our memories of Miss Nora Kindness by visiting our Google Album.

Jim Ferguson President, Cincinnati Branch, RSCDS