It’s almost festive ceilidh season! Gayle got into the swing of things when she joined a Dundee group for a fun Scottish Country Dancing session…
I love ceilidhs. The rousing music, the dancing, the cheery faces and the whooping all make for a fantastic experience.
Alas, I’m often the idiot twirling in the wrong direction or tripping over my feet. That’s largely because I don’t do it enough – usually only at weddings and Hogmanay if I’m lucky – so I tend to forget the more tricky routines.
When I join an afternoon session of Scottish Country Dancing at Dundee’s Ardler Centre, I’m not the only one forgetting the moves and having a good laugh about it – which is a great relief.
I’d been invited along to the fortnightly shindig hosted by the Dundee group of The University of the Third Age (U3A) by Irene Geoghegan, who along with her husband Tom, also runs the Tay Dancers group.
The U3A dance sessions are less formal, not at all stuffy or stuck up, and focus on having fun as opposed to ensuring folk get all the steps right.
Everyone is welcome if they’re part of the U3A, a UK-wide movement which brings together people in their “third age” to develop interests and continue learning in a friendly, informal environment.
That usually means people who are retired, or semi-retired, or who have finished raising their family.
Okay, so I don’t fit into this category just yet, but I’m here do a feature, so any “rules” fly out the window.
Glancing round the gym hall, I notice there’s an abundance of women and a dearth of men.
“We have around 60 people on the books but usually only around six men come along,” says Irene, 65, head of research and development for a soft fruit company. “We could certainly do with more men!”
This uneven distribution of sexes means that very often, women pair with women. That’s fine because sessions don’t focus on dances like the Gay Gordons, for example, with traditional male roles – where the man’s arm is behind the lady’s back, and so on.
“It doesn’t matter if you dance with a man or a woman,” says Irene,
“And the dances aren’t difficult, as long as you can count to five and know your left from your right.”
Irene takes us through the steps of our first dance, which she refers to as “Moving Along” – she doesn’t use “proper” Scottish Country Dance names for these laid-back sessions.
This first dance involves moving round the room, changing partners.
Once we’ve done a full walk-through, as we do with all the dances, Bruce Kiddie turns on the music and we twirl, kick, walk and skip our way through the first half of the two-hour session, by which time, my legs are aching and I’m dripping with sweat!
You don’t have to dance quite so vigorously, of course, but I can’t help myself.
There’s a break for coffee and cakes baked by Irene and then we’re right back into it.
Things get a little more complex. Some of us struggle with the “lady’s chain” manoeuvre and to this day, it bemuses me, but Irene assures me it’ll come with practise.
Other dances include the Teddybear’s Picnic, Marmalade Sandwich, Witches Reel, Snowball Reel, Britannia Twostep, Virginia Reel, Hoy Chase and Progressive Quadrilles.
My favourites are probably the upbeat Old Swan Gallop, a bit of a mad stampede with a lot of twirling and ducking under arms, and of course, Orcadian Strip the Willow.
“We try to do 12 dances each session but it depends how quickly everyone picks it up,” Irene tells me as I mop my sweaty brow.
“With 40 to 60 people, it’s not always easy! But we managed our 12 dances today so gold stars all round!”
Everyone is mega friendly and it doesn’t matter that I’ve come on my own because sessions aren’t regimented and you don’t need a dance partner.
“You can come here alone or with a friend or partner,” smiles Irene. “We welcome single people and make sure everyone mixes.
“The idea is you meet new friends and get some exercise in a stress-free environment.
“It’s very popular but there’s always room for more people. The more the merrier! Dancing needs lots of people to have an atmosphere.
“For me, it’s so important that people remain healthy in body and mind and dancing is a very pleasurable way to achieve that.”
It’s also a brilliant workout, as my body testifies.
I don’t feel the urge to go for a run as planned that evening and I continue to feel the physical effects of the session for days.
It’s thought Scottish country dancing can burn more than 400 calories an hour and works just about every muscle, so perhaps that’s why!
As well as being great exercise, Scottish country dancing can help prevent diseases like diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.
It also helps prevent degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s – the need to be co-ordinated and keep up with timings keeps your brain engaged. It can build bone density, core strength and agility, reduce stress and improve mood.
New members are always welcome at the U3A group, as long as they fit the criteria of the U3A.
Irene’s Scottish Country Dancing group runs from 2pm to 4pm every fortnight at Dundee’s Ardler Centre.
The U3A Christmas Scottish Dance party is on Monday December 9 at Ardler Complex from 1pm to 4pm and everyone is welcome, even non-members.
There’s Christmas music to dance to, a buffet and the session is recorded and put online.
For more information, see u3asites.org.uk or email email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Meanwhile, Tay Dancers share videos of their dances online. The group has followers from not 50 different countries from around the world, including the Far East and Australia.