About Scottish Dance Archives

In the early 1970’s and late 1960’s there was an explosion of new dances, devised by dancers who had no particular intention or opportunity of publishing them formally. Naturally, these were of variable quality, but there were those that were deservedly popular in their own locality. These circulated by word of mouth or on hastily written cribs where accuracy was not guaranteed. One consequence of this was the creation of local versions of the dance. A classic example of this comes from my own experience and involves the well known and very popular “Ian Powrie’s Farewell to Auchterarder”. This was devised by Bill Hamilton of Edinburgh and was actually formally published by him. I started my Scottish Dancing in Edinburgh, then moved, due to work requirements, to Merseyside. I was not then familiar with “Ian Powrie’s Farewell” but later was given a hastily written version on a scrap of paper by a friend. This I introduced to Merseyside, where it became widely popular. Unfortunately, my crib version started off by saying “Circle” – not “Circle round and back”. So our version started with a circle left for eight bars, carried on as published, then finished with circle right for eight bars. Eventually we met up with Bill Hamilton, discovered the discrepancy which he did not see as an improvement. Unfortunately, our version was so firmly entrenched that it had become the de facto “correct” version on Merseyside. It may still be so to this day for all that I know.

For such reasons and because of our wish to winnow out deserving dances from the flood and to preserve them for posterity, Roy Clowes, Gill Clowes, Mamie Donald and I, Robert Donald, decided to set up a formal system to this end. Being conscious that what we might think to be a good dance might not seem so to others, the selection process was based on the system used by academic journals to decide research papers that were worthy of publication. We invited any who wished to submit their dances to us for publication. These were sent out to a pool of volunteer teachers of Scottish Dancing who had kindly agreed to teach them to their class and feed back the assessment, often with improvements. Each dance was sent to several referees and were anonymous, in that those trying them out did not know who was the devisor. A dance was regarded as worthy of publication only if the majority of the referees it had gone to recommended it.

Those so recommended were printed on individual sheets and circulated to subscribers world wide for a modest cost. Originally, 20 sheets were published each year. Eventually, as it became harder to find 20 good new dances each year from those submitted to us, the number dropped to 10 each year. Scottish Dance Archives, as the process was christened, ran from 1972 to 1982, publishing 190 social dances plus a number of specialised sheets such as Set Dances, Highland Step sheets and various teaching guides and opinions. We decided to end the subscription publication in 1982 since, in our opinion, there were no longer sufficient worthwhile candidates.

An important point is that from the very beginning it was decided that all money accruing from the publication should be fed back into the support and promotion of Scottish Dancing. This still applies to this day. As an example of such support, fees were paid for a young teacher to attend the RSCDS certificate classes in St. Andrews.

While Archives no longer publishes or collects dances, it still supports Scottish Dancing. This website is one way in which it does this. In closing this account, I wish to pay a personal tribute to the great contribution made by the late Roy Clowes to Scottish Dancing as a whole, not just to Scottish Dance Archives.

Robert A. Donald