Royal Scottish Country Dance Society - Delaware Valley Branch

New Dancer FAQs

What is Scottish country dancing?

Scottish country dance, sometimes called “the ballroom dancing of Scotland”, is a vigorous, lively, yet elegant form of social dancing. Sets of 4 couples dance a particular pattern 8 times through, each couple taking a turn leading the figures. The footwork is precise, the movements crisp. What makes the dance form particularly Scottish is the music with its fast-moving jigs and reels, and its graceful strathspeys.

The dances are enjoyable to watch when performed by agile and experienced dancers, yet also simple enough to be accessible to most people who wish to learn them.  After all, it is social dancing, with an emphasis on the community dancing together.
For more history visit:  the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, Scotland.

What should I wear?

Wear flat, flexible-soled shoes — ballet or jazz shoes are best. Typically Scottish dancers wear ghillies, but you will see many types of footwear on the dance floor.  Women generally wear skirts or loose fitting pants. Men wear kilts if they wish, but pants are also appropriate.  Make sure you can move easily in whatever clothes you decide to wear.

What are ghillies?

Ghillies are laced dance shoes with flexible soles like a flat ballet slipper.  Ghillies are worn by both men and women for a variety of dance forms including Scottish.  See our Related Info page  for places to buy ghillies.

Do men have to wear kilts?

It is not necessary to wear a kilt but you will often see men wearing kilts and sporrans at our classes, socials and balls.  If you do not have a kilt, wear comfortable pants.

Do I need a partner?

No partner is necessary. People informally ask each other to dance, and you will dance with many partners throughout the evening.

Do I need to be “in shape” to start dancing?

If you can walk vigorously and have some sense of direction, you can learn this kind of dancing! Our youngest dancers are in elementary school, our oldest are in their 80s. Learn at your own pace and increase your stamina over time in a fun, relaxed atmosphere.

Would this type of dancing be considered exercise?

Yes, Scottish country dancing is exercise but it’s fun not grueling. During the dance everyone takes a turn as lead couple which allows the others to catch their breath. It is fine to sit out a dance, watching is a great way to learn the steps and figures.  Reels and jigs are fast-paced but strathspeys are done slowly. All of the dance steps help to develop balance, timing and core strength.

What type of class is right for me?

The Delaware Valley Branch is blessed with many active classes. We offer several types of dance classes: Basic, Experienced, Advanced, Social, and specialty classes. To see where and when classes are held, go to our Classes page to learn more.

Basic Class – Newcomers and those with less than a year’s Scottish dancing experience are invited to join our basic classes, or “combined” classes which include basic instruction. Here, you learn the essentials of the ballroom dancing of Scotland: the formations, the steps, the giving of hands, and the etiquette and sociability of Scottish country dancing. Many people are ready to move on to an experienced class after two semesters of basic class. Those with other dance experience may be ready to join the experienced and social classes sooner. Your teacher will help you determine when you are ready.

Social Class – Social classes are generally for dancers who already know the basic footwork and formations and enjoy learning new dances. Social class spends less time on practicing technique and more time learning dances.

Experienced Class – Can you do crossover mirror reels? How about set to and turn corners? Are rights and lefts, allemandes, and poussettes old friends? Welcome to the experienced class (dancing shoes required). Here, you learn general repertoire dances and those for the next upcoming ball. There is more emphasis on phrasing and polishing known figures, on controlled use of steps, and on learning more advanced figures.

Advanced Class – This is a once-a-month class for those interested in rigorous work on their footwork, handing, phrasing, posture, and body control. A challenging repertoire of dances is taught.  Familiarity with all standard figures is expected.  Consult with your teacher who will help you determine if you are ready for this class.

Do I have to memorize dances?

No, you don’t need to memorize dances, but Scottish country dancing is not called. You learn the basic steps and figures over time. These steps and figures are incorporated into different patterns to create a myriad of dances.  Dances are taught in classes, and reviewed at dances and balls.

Is the music live or recorded?

Recorded music is often used in classes and sometimes at social dances. However, the Branch boasts many talented local musicians and loves to engage them whenever possible. We also invite talented musicians from other areas to play for Branch events.

Do I have to be a member to take classes or go to a social dance?

Membership is not required to join our classes or social dances. However there are many benefits to becoming a member of the branch, visit the Membership page for more information.

Is Scottish country dancing only for serious dancers?

Scottish country dancing is great fun. Its social dancing, which means there’s no audience, just the pleasure of dancing together to the best of our various abilities. There are venues available for all levels of dance enthusiasts.

Do I have to be Scottish to enjoy Scottish country dancing?

Many of us aren’t of Scottish ancestry. We love the music and the dance form and hope you will too!

Where can I see what Scottish country dancing looks like?

Two videos on YouTube that we like are a teaching segment with Angela Young and an information video from Louisville, KY, which shows both quick and slow time dances, and how those dances are taught. You are also welcome to attend one of our classes or social dances as an observer to check it out before you decide if its for you.

I’m a musician.  Are there opportunities for me to play?

We are always looking for new talent to join the musicians that are an integral part of the Scottish country dancing tradition. Please contact Jane Roberts and visit our Music page for more details.

Are there other area venues for this type of dancing?

Yes, visit our Related Info page for nearby Branches, Dance Camps and Festivals.

What are socials?

Social dancing has a long tradition in the Delaware Valley, bringing together dancers from all corners of the Branch to dance and socialize together. Out-of-town visitors are welcome! Dances are reviewed at social dances. There is enough instruction to enable dancers to enjoy the dance program, mostly of an easy and intermediate level.

What is a ceilidh dance?

Ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee) is a Gaelic word for a casual party with music, dancing and  entertainment. Come and enjoy couple dances, country dances, and more! These events are suitable for inexperienced and experienced dancers of all ages. Little emphasis will be placed on footwork or fine points of technique. No partner needed. Just bring your dancing shoes (sneakers will do) and your enthusiasm. Check our calendar for dates and times.

What is a ball?

Balls are formal dance events. Many people wear gowns, highland wear or other clothing appropriate to the festivity of the occasion.  Balls begin with a Grand March, lead by a piper.  Live music is provided by well-recognized Scottish dance musicians.  The ball program is published in advance so that the dancers can become familiar with the dances before the event.  Reviewing the dances before hand can help newer dancers feel more comfortable.  The emcees will do a briefing (short recap) before each dance.

What is Hogmanay?

Hogmanay is the Scottish word for New Year’s and Delaware Valley Branch members casually refer to our New Year’s Ball as “Hogmanay”.

Are all teachers formally credentialed?

Most Delaware Valley Branch teachers have gone through an extensive training process. The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society offers Teacher Certificate Levels I and II.

The Branch’s teaching staff includes several individuals currently involved in the training process, many fully certificated teachers, four experienced teacher trainers (tutors), and one RSCDS examiner.  Our teachers are regularly sought out for guest teacher appearances across North America and in Scotland.  The Branch has consistently supported the training process and been rewarded with a dedicated and notably talented teaching staff.


Royal Scottish Country Dance Society - Delaware Valley Branch