Article by Katrin Figge appeared in
Globe, Jan 2009
"Strip the Willow,” Alex Smilie announces. “Let’s start with something easy.” Smilie, a dance instructor, gathers eight people and has them standing in two lines facing
their partners, leaving enough room in the middle for a couple to reel past. As the music starts, the couple at the head of the formation bow and curtsy to each other,
then link arms and reel clockwise, alternating between their initial partner and one of the other couples as they make their way down the line. The procedure is
repeated until each couple has danced through the lines. “Easy?” one of the newcomers asks in disbelief after the first dance, as she catches her breath. “I’m
The Scottish Country Dancing group meets once or twice a month at different locations — wherever is most convenient at the time.
On this day, they have gathered at the British Women’s Association in Kemang, South Jakarta, a quiet retreat just a few steps away from the bustling main road of the
popular district. The house has its own library, a swimming pool and, most importantly for tonight, a large empty space where the dancers can practice. Susan
Whistler, chairwoman of the British Women’s Association of Jakarta, is this evening’s host and also proves to be an elegant and enthusiastic dancer. The other
participants are from Scotland, New Zealand, Germany and Indonesia — everyone is welcome. As the evening lengthens, so do the breaks between dances. Not all
the attendees are dancing. Some have accompanied their partners and are more comfortable watching than participating. Smilie tries to encourage the reluctant
guests to the dance floor. “We don’t force anyone to dance,” he said. “But I do my very best to convince everybody to try.” Andi McLeod, one of the Indonesian dancers, is
married to a Scotsman and has been part of the dance group for five years. “It is very good exercise,” she explains. “I’d rather come here than go to a gym. In the end,
you burn calories all the same.” Her 11-week-old daughter sleeps in the corner while her mother dances, undisturbed by the sounds of bagpipes and accordions.
Such so-called country dances were especially popular at the English court of Elizabeth I, who ruled from 1558 until 1603, but were eventually replaced with newer
dances and polkas. However, country dance remained a favorite pastime in Scotland for all classes of society. After World War I, Scottish country dance disappeared
almost completely, but was taken up again in the early 1920s. Smilie shouts “The Dashing White Sergeant” — the break is over.This dance requires two sets of three
people who dance as a group. There is a lot of spinning, circling and hand clapping, but most of all, there is cheerful laughter. Nobody seems to get upset when
somebody makes a mistake or treads on another dancer’s foot, even though one wrong step can mean chaos for the whole group. The dance is repeated twice before
the dancers tire and need another break — with another round of drinks.
Andrea Bach, a German participant, has been involved with Scottish Country Dancing for almost 17 years. In Germany, she attended regular courses conducted by the
Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, an organization with 20,000 members and a network of 170 branches worldwide.“Here in Jakarta, I mostly do it for fun and
because I enjoy being around the people,” she says.The Scottish Country Dancers in Jakarta are linked to the Java St. Andrew’s Society, which aims at introducing and
preserving Scottish culture. “Unfortunately, the number of members is shrinking, which is the case with all these foreign societies,” Smilie said.
“Before, there was not much to entertain in Jakarta, but now there are shopping malls, cinemas and clubs, not to forget the bad traffic, which makes it hard to get
around the city.” Andi said: “Today it is more crowded than usual because we have an event coming up. So we all need to practice.” The dancers get to show off their
steps at major annual events like St. Andrew’s Ball and the Burns Supper, which celebrates the life of the Scottish poet Robert Burns. At times, they even invent their
own steps.The last dance is “Mairi’s Wedding,” a dance that only the more experienced dancers can pull off.When it is over, Smilie calls an end to the night — but not
before offering another round of drinks, of course.
Photo: Members of the Scottish Country Dancing group perform at annual events like St. Andrew’s Ball and the Burns Supper, which celebrates the life of the Scottish
Poet Robert Burns.
Formation: three facing three around the room, man between two ladies or
lady between two men.
Music: The Dashing White Sergeant - 32 bar reels, starting and ending with
"The Dashing White Sergeant".
1-8: Join up in a circle of 6 and circle round to the left for 8 steps (4 bars)
and back to the right.
9-12: The person in the middle turns to the partner on the right and both
set to each other, then both turn round once with right hand, (or both
hands). The other partner stands still.
13-16: Repeat with the other partner.
17-24: Using elbow grip, turn 1st partner, then 2nd partner, then 1st partner,
then 2nd partner.
25-28: Holding hands in lines of three advance towards opposite line,
(two skip steps), and retire.
29-32: Both lines dance forward, one line raising their hands in an arch and
the other line dancing underneath, and dance on to meet the next set
of three coming in the other direction. Repeat dance from the
beginning with new set of three.
DASHING WHITE SERGEANT
Formation: couples around the room facing anti-clockwise, ladies
on the right.
Music: 2/4 or 4/4 march. E.g. "Scotland the Brave", "The Gay
1-2: Right hands joined over lady's shoulder
(man's arm behind her back) and left hands joined in
front, walk forward for four steps, starting on the
3-4: Still moving in the same direction, and without letting go,
pivot on the spot (so left hand is behind lady and right
hand is in front) and take four steps backwards.
5-8: Repeat in the opposite direction.
9-12: Drop left hands, raise right hands above lady's head.
Lady pivots on the spot. (The man may set).
Repeat ad lib till end of ceilidh dance.
Formation: Longwise sets of 4 couples, men on the right and ladies on the
left. Couples number from nearest the band.
Music: 6/8 or 9/8 double jigs. E.g. "The Irish Washerwoman", "The Curlew",
"The Jig of Slurs" for 6/8 and "Drops of Brandy" for 9/8.
1-8 1st couple spin RH.
9-20 1st lady turns 2M LH, partner RH, 3M LH, partner RH, 4M LH.
21-24 Spin with partner RH to the end of the phrase.
25-36 1st man turns 4L LH, partner RH, 3L LH, partner RH, 2L LH.
37-40 Spin with partner RH to the end of the phrase.
41-52 1st lady works down men, while 1st man works down ladies,
turning 2C LH, partner RH, 3C LH, partner RH, 4C LH.
53-56 Spin with partner RH to the end of the phrase. (They are now at
the end of set.)
Repeat with 2nd couple, then 3rd couple, 4th couple .... and repeat ad lib till