What is Step Dancing?

There are many types of Scottish dancing in addition to Country Dancing, and the RSCDS recognise the importance of each within the Scottish cultural and historical background. While the RSCDS mainly focuses on Country Dancing, we also aim to promote and develop related types of Scottish dance, one of which is Step Dancing.

Step Dancing is more technically challenging than Country Dancing, and the RSCDS is involved in teaching both forms of dance (you can find Step classes at our Summer School). We even hold demonstrations of Step Dancing, which you can see below.

We hope that you will learn more about Step Dancing and perhaps pursue this wonderful form of dance in addition to Country Dancing!

Solo Step Dances like the Earl of Erroll were traditionally danced by men and, although sometimes it is referred to as ‘Ladies' Step’, the current repertoire is open to anyone.
Dance style

Step Dances can be solo dances, or for two or more dancers. A Step Dance consists typically of some 6 or 8 steps of 8 bars, often ending with a “close” (chorus). The individual movements and steps recur frequently in many dances and show the combined influences of the Scottish, French and Irish traditions.

(The following is taken from The St Andrews Collection of Step Dances, which can be purchased in our online shop).

The marriage of movement and music is nowhere more apparent or more necessary than in the performance of step dances. This is particularly true in reference to the rhythmic matching of the steps and the tunes.

The music is very attractive and enjoyable to listen to and generally more gentle in style than the Jigs, Reels and Strathspey tunes danced to by Scottish Country Dancers. 

This reflects the gentler and very elegant dancing, almost balletic in style that characterises these "Ladies" Step Dances. Many of the old dances were written for young ladies of the 'big' houses in Scotland. These young people of the 18th century would have been encouraged and educated in the arts, including dancing, which was taught by the visiting 'dancie'.

Excerpts for this section were taken from an article written by Susan Nedderman, and edited by former Chairman Helen Russell.

In 1841 Frederick Hill, a tailor from Alford in Aberdeenshire, wrote in a notebook details of many dances including a dozen Step Dances. These were interpreted in 1946 by Miss Cruickshank, last of a long line of dance teachers in Aberdeenshire. Miss Cruickshank was insistent that the dances should be performed in a soft balletic style, and it was this style that Mrs Tibbie (Isobel) Cramb instilled during her classes at St Andrews.

Step Dancing in Aberdeen originated with Francis Peacock who was appointed by popular request as “sole dancing master within the Burgh of Aberdeen” in 1747 and remained in this office until his death in 1808. He was assisted and succeeded by his friend Archibald Duff, who seems to have toured the county, giving classes in the towns and teaching individuals in the great houses. It is probable that Hill had attended Duff’s classes. Duff also published, in 1812, a collection of dance music including the tunes for 27 Step Dances. The titles, such as “Pas seul for Miss Margaret Burnett of Leys” and “Pas de deux for the Misses Grant of Monymusk” make it clear that many of the dances had been composed specifically for individuals and doubtless consisted of different combinations of the standard steps. Unfortunately the instructions for many of Duff’s dances have not survived.

Many of the Dance Masters had their annual “Publicks” (balls) at which their pupils demonstrated their skills. Also the young ladies of the great houses performed at home to entertain their fathers’ guests, dressed in their best gowns and wearing indoor shoes.

The Hill manuscript is not our sole source of Step Dances. Miss Cruickshank taught Mrs Cramb three more. The Rose of Benbecula is adapted from a dance found in Canada by Mrs MacNab and Callum Brogach was given to Mrs Cramb by Florence Neill, whose grandfather, James Neill, had taught the late Queen Mother when she was a child.

Mrs Hope Little recalled that she and Miss Milligan attended Dancie Reid’s classes, in the afternoon at St Andrews before the war, at which he taught both the Scottish Lilt and the 6/8 Blue Bonnets, sometimes playing the fiddle as he danced! Also present at these classes was Elizabeth Dunbar, later Mrs West but affectionately known as ‘Tihi’. She was a member of staff and examiner in the early years of Summer School. The dance Highland Laddie, was also taught to her by ‘Dancie’ John Reid of Newtyle. Mrs West’s daughter, Wendy, continued the tradition of teaching Ladies Highland and Step at Summer School until recently, preserving the continuity of style.

The following are better known traditional dances you will come across. Instructions for the dances found below are available in the St. Andrews Collection of Step Dance books, and the music can be found on the CD of the same name, both available for purchase in our online shop.

  • Auld Reekie (Davidson)
  • Blue Bonnets (4/4 version)
  • The Bonnie Briest Knot
  • The Bonnie Broom (Fidler)
  • Come Ashore Jolly Tar (Haynes)
  • The Deeside Lilt (West)
  • The Dusty Miller
  • The Earl of Erroll
  • Flora MacDonald’s Fancy
  • The Flowers of Edinburgh
  • The Graces
  • Highland Laddie
  • The King of Sweden
  • The Dusty Miller (8 steps)
  • The Bonnie Briest Knot (long version)
  • Come Ashore Jolly Tar (Haynes - 8 steps)


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