Presently, percussive step dancing is enjoying a very healthy revival throughout Scotland and indeed elsewhere. Cape Breton Gaels have been asked to come over to show us their style of step dancing and fiddling and piping. Their style of step dancing is often referred to as Cape Breton Step Dancing, which is quite correct, but they themselves often just refer to it as the Old Scotch step dancing that came across with their ancestors from Scotland.
In Scottish percussive Step dance, the dance and the music are very closely linked, with the dancer following the music at all times by beating out the rhythm with the feet. These steps, usually danced in hard-soled shoes, can be danced within social dances or as solo performances. Scottish percussive step dancing does not require turn out of legs and feet as modern Highland dancing, as it is entirely natural. The arms are held loosely by the sides of the body. The music used for step dancing is fiddle, bagpipes and song (puirt-abeul/mouth music).
The melodeon or accordion is not often used for step dancing but can be. People do not wear any special costume for step dancing, just normal everyday wear. The kilt is not usually worn for step dancing.
The term ‘Step Dancing’ can either refer to percussive footwork, as you may find it in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, and many other places where Scots settled in North America (which is the old form of Scottish dancing) or to a combination of steps, for example Highland Fling and Sword Dance. One has to keep in mind that the solo dance tradition in Scotland, percussive or not, most likely grew out of the Scottish reel dancing. If a good dancer was asked to perform on his own he would simply string together steps he knew from the reel, thus creating a step dance. Remains of the circular Scots reel can still be seen at the start of several solo Highland Dances, such as Seann Triubhas, Sailor’s Hornpipe, Irish Jig and the Sword Dance. Even old Highland Flings had circling in them.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries other influences had an effect on the popularity of this style of dance. Amongst these was the introduction of a soft leather shoe, which began to replace the hard shoe for dancing from around the turn of this century.
The association of Scottish Step dancing with Irish dancing comes from the easy access to Irish percussive step dance in modern times, and because the arms are not used. But old style (sean-nos) Irish step dancing, as well as modern competitive Irish step dancing and even more recently Riverdance style step dancing are, and should be, seen as distinctive in their own right, although the steps are in many cases similar especially in the sean-nos style. Their dance rhythms respond to Irish music, which has a different emphasis from Scottish music. Essentially the roots of both step dance traditions are similar, as percussive footwork reflects the inner rhythms of the music. This is parallel to language, as Scots Gaelic is different but yet similar to Irish Gaelic, so is Scottish to Irish step dancing.
(From Scottish Dance Traditions)
Frank McConnell (Artistic Director of plan B Dance Company based in Ross-shire)
Frank McConnell was born and brought up in Glasgow of a family with strong Hebridean ties and no interest in the arts. He trained as a PE teacher but found an escape route into dance from which he has never returned.
After training with Royston Maldoom and the Arts in Fife, he cultivated at a deep interest in creativity and the Arts but has maintained and passion for education in its broadest sense. He has performed and collaborated with Communicado Theatre company on seven occasions but it is principally known as a choreographer. Having created work for Northern Stage (England), Le Groupe de la Place Royale (Canada), and the National Opera in Holland, Frank feels equally at home working with a small community group in Achiltibuie (Scotland).
Frank set up plan B in 1989 with Caroline Docherty to explain new ways of creating a work about was the original and innovative in its presentation. He moved to the Highlands in 1994 to work as dancer-in-residence for Ross and Cromarty District Council and to develop his growing love for Scottish step dancing and Scotland’s earlier dance heritage. In May 2000, he was one of the first people in Britain to be awarded a Fellowship from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts and is using this time to explore his own creativity within a Highland landscape.
plan B have been awarded flexible funding from the Scottish Arts Council until 2011, allowing the company to create and develop dance throughout the Highlands through a variety of community and professional projects.
Plan B have recently delivered dance classes for pupils of primary schools in Wester Ross and Sutherland and will be teaching the Ullapool & District Youth Dance Group every Wednesday 4 – 6pm at the Macphail Centre March – Mat 2012.