Some people continue the habit of "pre-booking" partners for dances later
in the evening. Many people consider it rude to do so for the whole evening.
For the most part, feel free to ask anyone of either sex to dance. CAVEAT:
Be aware that in some areas, two men dancing together may be encouraged to
partner two women who were dancing together. This is more often the case
in classroom situations (where teachers and people learning the dance prefer
to clearly see who is dancing "as a woman" and who is dancing "as a man").
It is customary to dance with many different partners throughout the evening.
If possible, try to partner at least one person with whom you have never
danced before (SCD is all about meeting new people) - and of course, ask
them their name and where they are from.
Beginners shouldn't be afraid to ask more experienced dancers to dance.
Experienced dancers are strongly encouraged to invite beginners to dance,
as they are often shy about asking more advanced dancers to partner them.
If you are an experienced dancer, look around to see if anyone is sitting
out while you are dancing, and consider asking that person for the next dance.
If asked to dance, do not be afraid to politely decline if you are not
confident that you can manage that dance. Don't feel pressured if the MC
is calling for "one more couple". If you really cannot cope, it spoils your
own pleasure and that of your partner and the set. Keep in mind that you
can attempt more with a partner whom you know is a good dancer and good at helping.
Form sets when the dance is announced or the band signals the next dance
by playing the opening bars of music. It is considered rude to take the floor
before one of these two signals has been given.
When the dance is announced or introductory music is played, walk
onto the floor with your partner, even if this means that you are not in
the top set. (Other people may also like an occasional dance near the band
or a chance to be first couple.)
Try to get into sets with different people, rather than just making up
sets with your friends.
Always join sets from the bottom, never dash into the middle or the top
of a set that has already formed.
If you are the top couple, it is customary to count off the couples so
each dancer knows if s/he is first couple, second couple, etc. If after counting
off the sets you find that more couples are needed to complete the set, hold
up fingers indicating how many couples are needed. The MC will usually announce it.
If a dance is being "briefed", keep quiet and listen, even if
you already know the dance, or you are sitting out.
Notes on Helping Others:
It's great if you are able to help your partner or other dancers in the
set through a dance, but be judicious. No one likes to be bossed around,
and no one wants to be pushed.
Don't assume that if someone makes one mistake
they need you to cue them through the entire dance.
The best way to help
is through subtle techniques like making eye-contact, good handing, etc.
While a few quiet verbal cues from one's partner can be much appreciated,
avoid getting into a situation where everyone in the set is shouting out
If someone is going the wrong way, avoid a crash and do your
best to be where you are supposed to be. If everyone else is in the correct
place it will be easier for the "lost" dancer to see where s/he is supposed
After each dance is completed, thank your partner and the other
dancers in your set. It is also considered polite to escort your partner
from the dance floor.
Very often, a set of instructions for
the dances on a ball program will be available ahead of time, possible on the hosting group's web site or as printed notes which can be mailed. Look over these notes ahead
of time, or consider going over them with a friend. Maybe even "dance" them
on the kitchen table with salt and pepper shakers. Don't worry about memorizing
the dances, but try to "get a feel for them." Most dancers will not know ALL (or even
many) dances by heart. Note if the dance is a "partner can help you"
or a "you're on your own" type of dance, or maybe a "don't try it" dance. Even for experienced dancers, thorough
preparation for a ball can take several hours.
Many of the dances on the program for balls in your area will be done in
class during the weeks before the ball, so make a point of attending.
Many ball organizers will schedule a walk-through or ball rehearsal of
some type the afternoon or evening before the dance. Consider attending if
you are unfamiliar with or not sure of some of the dances.
Don't feel compelled to find a date. In Scottish country dancing, it is
customary to change partners throughout the evening, even if one has come
with a date.
WHAT TO WEAR:
Whatever you wear, make sure you can dance in it!
Men are always encouraged to wear a kilt at a ball, but don't feel you
have to stay away if you don't have one. At a formal ball, other formal
wear such as a suit and tie would be appropriate. At a semi-formal ball
like the RSCDS Twin Cities Branch Beginner's/Fàilte Ball, a nice
pair of trousers and shirt would be appropriate attire. On the other hand,
if you've never worn the kilt before, a ball is the perfect opportunity
to borrow or rent one to try out.
Ladies, a Scottish country dance ball may be your golden opportunity
to wear those bride's maid dresses and prom gowns you thought you'd never
be able to wear again. Unless you are up for an Oscar, there just aren't
many opportunities to really dress up these days, but a ball is one of
those few times. Of course, if you don't have a Vera Wang lying
around, never fear. An attractive skirt and top or dress will do quite
nicely. Whatever style you choose, make sure the skirt isn't too narrow
or you won't be able to move your legs freely enough to dance.
Ghillies or other soft-soled leather dance slippers are the typical footwear
for all dances for both men and women. If you haven't got a pair, any soft-soled
shoes will do in a pinch, even Keds. For the safety of themselves and other
dancers, ladies should not dance in high heels. Hard-soled shoes are strongly
discouraged, because they are quite painful if they happen to land on someone
else's foot. Stocking feet will work but may be dangerously slippery. If
necessary, consider asking the organizers of the event if they can find you
a pair of soft-soled shoes to borrow. Many dancers have extra pairs they
AT THE DANCE:
There are usually very few walk-throughs at a ball, so try to look over
the dance notes beforehand. If you have been going to classes, you will
have already danced most of the dances on the Fàilte/Beginner's
Ball program at least once before. At most balls, the dances are "briefed"
or "recapped" (i.e. a concise version of the instructions are given aloud)
just before they are danced as a reminder.
A copy of the dance instructions is usually distributed at the ball.
At more formal balls, these are often in the form of little booklets. Men
usually keep them in their sporrans, but since women's formalwear rarely
has pockets, they usually have more of a challenge. Many more formal balls
will provide a ribbon to tie the notes to your waist or wrist. Consider
bringing a safety pin or two to facilitate this.
After more popular dances and old favorites, dancers may call for an
encore. The standard way to request an encore is to raise your hand with your index finger pointing up (as in "one more time!"). If a dance is repeated, it is usually "once and to the bottom," unless
the MC says otherwise.
Balls usually begin with a Grand March and customarily end with a closing
waltz or a polka. Often the evening ends with everyone singing "Auld Lang
WHAT'S A GRAND MARCH ANYWAY?
The Grand March is often used to start off a ball. It is simply a march
around the room with a partner, usually to the music of a piper. It is
extremely easy -- no fancy footwork or formations -- and very suitable
for normally non-dancing partners who may have attended the ball with you.
However, at some balls, the grand march leads directly into sets for the
first dance, so you may want to find out whether that will be the case
before inviting a non-dancing partner to join you for the grand march.
When the Grand March is announced, find a partner and line up. If they've
come with a date, most people partner up with that person for the Grand March,
but if you've come alone don't feel bashful about just asking someone. It
is okay if the person is the same sex.
MORE TIPS FOR LESS EXPERIENCED DANCERS:
Be aware of and open to cues your partner and the other members of the
set may be giving you as you do the dance. A good partner will try to help
you through a dance and remind you what comes next in a subtle way.
Don't feel you must skip a ball if you don't know all the dances. Few
people at a ball know all the dances. They just look like they do, and practice
gives them ability to look at the dance notes quickly, watch carefully and
work out (i.e. guess) what is coming next. For example, if you are 2nd
corner and something is happening to 1st corners, it is likely that you
will be doing the same in the next phrase. You can also glance over at
the person dancing in your same position in the set next to you. Most importantly,
keep an eye on your partner and watch for cues.
If the program indicates a dance is recommended for more experienced
dancers, consider sitting that one out. Don't let other dancers coerce you
into doing a dance if you are uncomfortable with it, just to make up a
If you mess up, which most people do during the evening, however experienced,
don't panic! Sort out the set so that you can all dance the next time through.
The vast majority of experienced dancers are eager to encourage and help
you, and want to make your ball experience fun. If you run across one of
those rare stinkers who won't dance with you or gives you a dirty look
when you make an error, DON'T let it discourage you.
Most of all, smile and enjoy yourself! It's contagious!