Scottish Country Dancing

Toronto Edwards Gardens has a reputation for great floral displays throughout the year; but recently I got a most pleasant surprise beyond the floral beauties and lilac fragrances. What caught this observers senses were the sights and sounds of Scottish Country Dancing on the grounds by the Garden”s old barn:
The music guided me and to my delight I could see dozens of men and women of every age bowing, curtsying, and high-stepping on the lawn under a lazing sun on a perfect May evening. There were as many spectators if not more taking in the obvious enjoyment of Celtic riffs played by a curious combination of fiddle-yes, drum-okay, accordion-well, and electric keyboard and guitar-hunh? But no matter, the music easily carried the sway.Now I was at the Gardens to catch a star and do some picture taking, so after a few jigs and reels I wandered around among the flowers and started to catch some of Edwards Gardens of Delights. However, the flowers seemed to admonish me – almost coming right out and saying to me “so don”t miss the fun”.

And I must admit the music and sounds of people and excitement was sufficient lure in time to attract not only me but many other Gardens partakers to the lively dancing fun. So I returned to the sun dappled and shaded lawn to find out more about these kilted dances.

Talking with a Spokeswoman from the RSCDS (Royal Scottish Country Dancing Society of Toronto) I learned that although Scottish Country Dancing was once the ballroom dancing of Scotland it had its origins in ballet and the French and Scottish royal courts when those were so historically entwined. Now it is not only popular in Scottish towns and fairs; but around the world from Russia to Japan where, I am told, it is really BIG.And why not, the dancing is fairly simple to behold and follow. A set of 4 couples make up a group – and like square dancing they follow a series of dance patterns and step-throughs keyed not by a caller but by the music itself and a good memory for whats to come. What makes the flow so fascinating is that alternately some couples stand still and act as posts and portals for the other couples to dance around and through. For anyone interested in crystal symmetry and patterns this is like music to the eyes.

And despite its formal origins, Scottish Country Dancing really has an informal flair. True one can wear kilts and ghillies (many laced leather dancing shoes); but most people come in shorts and comfortable running shoes or pumps. And age seems to be no barrier as I saw pre-teens to eighties doing very well on the dance grounds and enjoying themselves immensely. One could see among the young spectators a genuine interest as they mimiced some of the flourishes and highsteps on the sidelines.

Also you don”t need to come as a couple, the etiquette is to switch partners for every dance and one could see groups changing as lively between as during the dances. And RSCDS offers 10-week starter/refresher classes starting in September and January at three locations across Toronto. The cost is reasonable at $80 and there are many local groups that get together for neighbourhood spiels where dancers can further learn or perfect their skills. And of course if you are in Toronto from the last 2 weeks in May through all of June, come down to Edwards Gardens on Tuesday evenings starting at 7PM sharp – and join in the fun.

So as darkness settled I went about getting a few more shots of the evening flowers. And again, it seemed to me that the flowers had picked up a bit of the dancing mood. Oh I know it truly was the slow shutter speed, the gusts of wind, and even a shaking heart – but I offer here photographic proof that the flowers certainly caught the Scottish Country Dancing spirits.

The dancing was so infectiously enjoyable it made me say a small prayer as I left the Gardens of Dancing Delights at dusk – “Ohh Al+Heimer give me back my memory and take away at least two of my three left feet”.

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