DST - Oxford University Scottish Dance Society
June 29, 2022
Continuing our series of blogs telling the story of Scottish country dancing in universities, we hear from Oxford University Scottish Dance Society President Louise Collinson:
Before my first year of University in 2019, the only experience of Scottish dancing I had was attending a Ceilidh at my cousin’s wedding. When I arrived at Oxford not long after and discovered OUSDS - the Oxford University Scottish Dance Society, a student-led group aiming to bring the joy of Scottish country dancing to students of all abilities and experience - I joined in the interest of learning something almost totally new!
Now, after three years of dancing (on and off - due to the pandemic) I have the honour of serving as the society’s President and hope to welcome many more members who, like me, are new to dancing when they join. The other committee members are University students and RSCDS-trained dance teachers who bring their experience to our weekly ‘Beginner’ and ‘Advanced’ classes.
Each academic year, during the first week of term, the society hosts a Fresher’s Ceilidh. It’s a hugely successful and widely-enjoyed event which introduces many new students to Scottish dancing. After that we host weekly classes which are suitable for complete beginners - thanks to the excellent work of our teachers who accommodate all abilities. These classes also involve practising for our end of term dance, where we perform a set of these dances, often to live music! Given that we learn new dances each class, students enjoy the flexibility of not having to commit to a weekly event to be able to take part in the end of term dance.
As well as the termly dances, the society runs larger events which offer our dancers the chance to experience something new. Every year, we join with the Cambridge University Strathspey and Reel Club to run the Highland Ball; a huge dancing and dining event attended by some of the oldest and newest members of both societies. Additionally, OUSDS joins in with the celebrations of the huge ‘May Morning’ festival in Oxford, by dancing in the city streets accompanied by a bagpipe player and alongside Morris dancers and other street performers! This year over 12,000 people came to May Morning and these larger events also help with outreach, getting more people curious about Scottish country dancing.
At the moment we have total of 31 student and non-student members, who sign up for termly or annual memberships, with a great mix of undergraduates and graduates from all types of backgrounds. Given that this is our first year back to dancing after our break during the pandemic, we hope this number will only go up! Some of our members have Scottish heritage or have danced previously whilst growing up, whilst others have little to no experience and are eager to try something new! We also see great variation in student members’ area of study. For example, I study biochemistry, and have found that science students are more common in the society than I would have thought when first starting. That being said, there isn’t actually one subject that is more represented in the society than another.
One thing I really enjoy about the society is the large age range of our members who all bring different experiences and perspectives to the group; older, more experienced dancers can guide our newer, younger members and less experienced dancers bring enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. It’s really great to see more undergraduates getting involved in dancing, enjoying themselves and bringing their friends along.
Given that there are so many University societies, and it can be very difficult to find out about something new, we always make sure to have a stall at the Freshers’ Fair at the start of the academic year; so people are able to visit the stall and talk to us. We also have many new members who’ve learned about our classes or ceilidhs through word of mouth or via Facebook events. Not only do we raise awareness of the society, but we encourage our members to attend RSCDS events or visit classes at their local branch during term time and the holidays. We even offer a scholarship to financially support society members who would like to attend events such as the RSCDS Summer School.
Scottish country dancing brings me so much joy – for me it’s a break from study and a way to keep fit whilst not being sporty or competitive. The people are welcoming and friendly and, although learning new dances can sometimes be challenging, it’s always good fun and no one minds if you get it a bit wrong!