Since March 2010 I have had the pleasure of debating and researching the subject of
Cape Breton/Scottish dance on a most cordial level with East Coast dancer, teacher and choreogrspher
My thanks to her for past, and I hope future, exchanges.
The soft, flexible Ghillie Dance Shoes, worn by both Country and Highland Dancers today are a relatively recent addition to Scottish Dance. Introduced to accommodate the greater technique injected into both dance forms they first appeared in Highland Dance around the 1890s when the influence of Ballet technique in competition dancing demanded a more flexible shoe (even then the shoes were nowhere near as flexible as today). It was much later, late 1940s, that the same flexible shoe first appeared in Country Dance. Prior to these dates a very different style of dance existed in both Country and Highland format when the footwear would have been ordinary daywear shoes or even "Tackety Boots" for Country Dance and the pipers "Silver Buckled" shoe for the competitive Highland dancer.
My preoccupation over the past fifty plus years with Hard-Shoe Dancing in Scotland started when I first joined The Reading Clog & Traditional Step Dance Group ( known for short as "The Reading Cloggies" ). Here I was introduced to the many varieties of, what is refered to today as, percussive dance in the U.K. and later other parts of the world. Much of their initial material came from the research field work of Joan and Tom Flett, but later many members of the group added to this with their own research material. It was there that I discovered that the version of Earl of Errol that I had learnt was at odds with all other known dances of that style. This prompted me to start my investigation into the background of Hard Shoe Dancing in Scotland.
Evidence of a Scottish Tradition of Percussive Hard Shoe Dance can be seen in the form of the following dances which have been collected and recorded in Scotland -
The Earl of Erroll
The First of August
The King of Sweden
Miss Gayton's Hornpipe
East Fyfe Clog Hornpipe
The Flowers of Edinburgh
The Liverpool Hornpipe
The Trumpet Hornpipe
The dances above represent a sophisticated style and structure of dance without any crude movements or characteristics. In other words these dances are well developed rather than at the beginning of their evolution, some even revealing the influence of the French Dancing Masters. The early dances were danced to tunes of the "Scotch Measure" ilk which seem to have been crested specifically to dance to. The Scotch Measure, which was the predecessor of the Hornpipe as we know it today, is structured in a similar manner to the Strathspey. Later dances were composed to the Hornpipe which came into existence around 1800.
Two dances in 6/4 time, which are obviously of earlier origin than the above, are
Dusty Miller and Wilt Thou Go To The Barricks Johnnie?
Both of which are to be found in the Hill Manuscript.
Other Dances which show traces of a Hard Shoe technique, but are dominantly of a Soft Shoe nature today are -
Aberdonian Lassies - Blue Bonnets - The Deeside Lilt - Flora MacDonald's Fancy - Miss Forbes
And remnants of an earlier style of Hard Shoe Dance can still be seen through the following Highland Dance movements -
Hop-Brush-Beat-Beat - Shuffle - Toe-Heel
Various aspects of Hard Shoe beating existed in the Country Dances of Scotland. J F & T M Flett provide several examples in their book "Traditional Dancing In Scotland" not least in the section on "The Art Of Treepling". Here is given illustration of how to Treeple through the country dance Petronella [East Lothian], but even this demonstrates a well developed technique. So also the case for the setting step used in the country dance Jacky Tar [Angus], very similar to the Second Step of the modern day Sailors' Hornpipe.
More basic beating can be found in the Setting Steps from the Islands around the Mainland, on the Shetland Isles the Hop-Back-Step was used in a combination of 3 Hop-Back-Steps finishing with 3 quick Beats or the Turning Pas de Basque ending with 3 quick Beats or Stamps. The 3 Beats or Stamps were also used to close a Reel of Three, Hands Across etc. Similar Steps were used on the Western Isles, all involving Beating or Stamping alternate feet.
Sadly, of the existing Hard Shoe Solo Dances, all of the "official" bodies have chosen to ignore the Hard Shoe aspect of Scottish Step-Dance and these dances have become slicked up Sailor's Hornpipe orphans in soft shoes.
The Earl of Erroll was the first Hard Shoe Dance I learnt and so it is not surprising that I have investigated it more than any other. The dance was originally considered to be the work of Frances Peacock, the renown Aberdeen Dancing Master, but is now thought to be from another Aberdeenshire teacher.
The following is an excerpt from my class notes provided when I have taught the Dance.An article published in the “Clan Hay Society Magazine”, January 1952, by Isobel Cramb, gives an account of the Steps and Music for The Earl Of Erroll, a typical “Hard Shoe Step Dance”. In a later edition of the same magazine she explains how the dance came to light through a hand written manuscript which bore the title page -
This manuscript has now become known as the much quoted and until now, rarely seen,. Unfortunately the reproduction of this notebook seems now to be unavailable.
Interestingly the dance which appears in “FOUR STEP DANCES”, published in 1953 by Isobel Cramb, differs quite largely from the account given in the Manuscript. This may be due to the fact that the published version of the dance came from the recall of Miss Flora Cruickshank, of Peterhead, who learnt the dance from her grandfather. Bearing in mind that the dance had been handed down through five generations of her family and the possible effects of over one hundred years of evolution it is quite understandable that differences in the two versions exist. The tune for the dance is a Scotch Measure, however the counting for the dance and in particular the Single and Double Trebles, as published, is rather vague and the interpretation of the movement is at odds with any other similarly styled dance collected in Scotland and the rest of the British Isles.
© Colin Robertson, 2016
All of the existing Scottish Hard Shoe Dances have the common musical connection in that they are all danced to either a Hornpipe or Scotch Measure, the precursor of the Hornpipe. This common factor introduces another common element, anacrusis.Anacrusis [ć n a'kru:sis] - Unstressed note or notes before the beginning of the first bar line.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary
In the case of the Single and Double Treble only 2 of the notes before the first bar line are used -
In comparison to the common interpretation of the movements this then gives a corrected Counting as displayed below.
SINGLE TREBLE RF Bar Count & Hop on LF, extending RF towards 4th Intermadiate Aerial position. a Catch In RF. 1 1 Step on RF in Open 3rd position. an Catch Out LF & Catch In LF a Step on LF in Open 3rd position. 2 Step on RF in 3rd Rear position.
DOUBLE TREBLE RF
Bar Count & Hop on LF, extending RF towards 4th Intermadiate Aerial position. a Catch In RF. 1 1 Step on RF in Open 3rd position. an Catch Out LF & Catch In LF a Step on LF in Open 3rd position. 2 Step on RF in 3rd Rear position. an Catch Out LF & Catch In LF a Step on LF in Open 3rd position. 3 Step on RF in 3rd Rear position. an Catch Out LF & Catch In LF a Step on LF in Open 3rd position. 4 Step on RF in 3rd Rear position.
© Colin Robertson 2016