A Strathspey for Hogmanay

PUBLISHED: 16:05 04 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:51 20 February 2013

The Taunton Caledonian Society dancing group

The Taunton Caledonian Society dancing group

Start the New Year off with a jig and a spot of Scottish Country Dancing around the county.

Start the New Year off with a jig and a spot of Scottish Country Dancing around the county. Words by Caroline Sherwood

According to the NHS, Scottish Country Dancing would be a good way to get fit in 2012. Researchers at Strathclyde University found it improved fitness in those aged 60-85. Strength, stamina, flexibility and balance were monitored, and people who danced reels and jigs were found to be more agile and had stronger legs than their contemporaries who engaged in other exercise forms. Its good for the cardiovascular system and for maintaining healthy bones, and the precise footwork helps to keep the mind active.

Danced socially, and in formation, traditionally the men wear kilts and sporrans, black jackets and soft black shoes with white laces. The ladies are dressed in white skirts with dramatic, colourful tartan sashes.

The dancers create geometric figures on the floor, weaving in and out, forming patterns like Celtic knots. Dances (Quick tempo, Reels, Jigs, Hornpipes, Strathspeys and Medleys) can be stately and graceful or vigorous and energetic. But what exactly is a Strathspey? Its like a slower, statelier Hornpipe and, viewed from above, its reminiscent of the colours threading through Scottish tartans.

Dances are named after people (Lady Catherine Bruces Reel); events (The Highland Fair, a Jig), and places (Strathglass House, a Strathspey).

Some illustrate historical events, such as Lady Sophia Lindsay. In 1681, the Earl of Argyle imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle for refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to King James was visited by his daughter in law, Lady Sophia Lindsay, with whose lackey he changed clothes. A thick fall of snow and the gloom of the December evening rendered the attempt successful, but at the outer gate the sentinel roughly grasped his arm. In agitation the earl dropped the train of Lady Sophia, who, with singular presence of mind, fairly slapped his face with it, and thereby smearing his features with half-frozen mud, exclaimed, "Thou careless loon!" Laughing at this, the soldier permitted them to pass. (Old and New Edinburgh, James Grant). The earl escaped to safety in Holland.

John Robertson runs a class in Crowcombe, now in its fifth year. "Scottish dancing was very popular in the 1950s/60s," John explained, and hes slightly rueful that "the majority of todays dancers are fairly elderly, which doesnt attract the younger generation! There are some groups that run classes specifically for the younger amongst us, but I dont know of any in this area. Its a great shame, as it is such great fun, and unless we recruit new members the clubs will gradually fade away."

He is heartened by the presence of Scottish dancing groups all over the world who welcome visitors: "on many camping holidays late in the year we have warmed ourselves up by attending the local group!"

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