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The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)

Scottish Patterns, Terms, and Styling
By C. Stewart Smith, 1974

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C. Stewart Smith


See Standard Abbreviations for a description of the abbreviations below.


The body is held erect but not stiff, chest high, arms naturally at sides. W may hold skirt with thumb and first two fingers. All dancing is done on the toes with knees turned out. Joined hands are held at shldr height. The correct hold for leading and turning (one hand) is the Handshake Hold. When a fast turn is done, the elbows are well bent and kept close to the body. On a longer turn, the arms are held easily extended.

Ptrs dance with each other, communicating by means of tension in arms and by looking at one another. When inactive, stand in place with heels together and toes apart (first pos), but be alert and ready to assist active cpl.

       Used at the beginning and end of each dance.

M bow from the waist, back straight, hands hanging easily at his sides, elbows bent, as he looks at his ptr.

W takes a tiny step swd (or fwd) with R, bringing the toe of L close to heel of R and bend both knees. Keep body erect and look at ptr. Then return to easy standing pos taking wt on L to prepare for dance movement. Skirt may be held between thumb and middle finger, elbows kept almost straight and wrist bent fwd a little.

CAST OFF (or down)

An individual turn outward (the long way), M turning CCW and W CW to dance down behind own line to designated place.


The same movement as Cast Off back to place, except M turn CW and W CCW to dance up behind own line.


A formation where cpl #1 stands back-to-back in the ctr facing out. Cpl #2 has moved up. If cpl #1 is facing own side, M #1 joins R hand with M #2 and L hand with M #3, while W #1 joins R hand with W #3 and L hand with W #2. If cpl #1 is facing opp sides, M #1 joins R hand with W #3 and L hand with W #2, while W #1 joins R hand with M #2 and L hand with M #3.


Formed by three persons, only one of whom is active, the other two stand in place. Active dancer loops in one dir (either CW or CCW) around one inactive person (4 meas) and then the other dir around the other inactive person (4 meas).

In many Scottish dances one cpl dances the Figure of Eight around another cpl. Then there are really two separat Figures of Eight being formed – one by the active W and another by the active M. The two separate Figures of Eight always go in the same dir, the W dancing one of the loops while the M dances the other (4 meas), and then they exchange loops (4 meas). The active W always crosses in front of her ptr as she goes between the inactive cpl to begin her loop around, and the M always crosses over behind her.

HANDS ACROSS (wheel or star)

Join indicated hand with opp person at shldr height, elbows slightly bent, and move as directed.


A pattern for two cpls facing each other with W on M R.

Meas 1-2: W cross over, giving R hands in passing. M loop 1/2 CCW dancing into ptrs place.

Meas 3-4: M turn opp w with L hand 1/2 CCW.

Meas 5-8: Repeat action of meas 1-4 back to place.


Cpls in two lines, a line of M facing a line of W, ptrs facing, M L shldr twd music or head of line. The two lines usually have four cpls, and then cpls are numbered from #1 to #4 with cpl #1 at top or head of line. Sometimes, the two lines have a different number of cpls, such as #3 or #5 (Polharrow Burn, for example).


The long turns made in a Rights and Lefts pattern by the dancers moving CW. These turns are at the end of meas 4 and 8 after the dancers have changed places on the sides giving L hands in passing. Those passing on the inside of the set must turn CCW into their own L arm to face the ctr.

REAL OF FOUR (8 meas)

A pattern danced by four persons, two standing back-to-back in ctr facing out twd other two who face in.

Meas    Dancers Facing Out                                                     Dancers Facing In

1           Pass R shldrs with facing dancer.                                  Pass R shldrs in ctr.

2           Curve to turn 1/2 CW and face in opp dir.                      Pass L shldrs in ctr.

3           Pass R shldrs with next dancer.                                    Pass R shldrs with next dancer.

4           Pass L shldrs in ctr.                                                       Curve to turn 1/2 CW and face in opp dir.

5-8        Repeat action of meas 1-4 back to orig place.              Repeat action of meas 1-4 back to orig place.


"Mirror-image" reels of four up and dn both sides of the dance. On M side, dance the usual Reel of Four beginning R shldrs and L in the ctr, but on W side, begin passing L shldrs and R in the ctr. When reaching the bottom of the set, cpl #1 cross to opp side passing L shldrs with ptr (meas 4) and continue the reel on opp side.

REEL OF THREE (8 meas)

A dance Fig for three people in a line, ctr dancer facing out and outside two dancers facing in. All three people are active and describe on the floor the pattern of a Figure of Eight consisting of two loops, one loop made CW and the other CCW. All three dancers go around the Figure of Eight in the same dir as in "follow the leader."

In an ordinary R shldr Reel of Three, the ctr dancer (#1) always begins curving CW to pass R shldrs with the dancer he is facing (#2) who also curves CW, while the remaining dancer (#3) curves CCW. Dancer #2 cuts through the ctr before dancer #3. Each half loop takes approximately two meas. At the end of meas 4, dancers should be halfway through the Fig. Dancers #2 and #3 will have changed places, and dancer #1 will have returned to the middle. At the end of meas 8, dancers will be back in original places.


A pattern danced as a small Grand Right and Left for four people and done in a floor pattern similar to a square, 2 meas for each side. Two dancers move CW around the square, and the other two move CCW.

Meas 1-2: Giving R hands in passing, change places with opp person across the dance. (Often this person will be ptr, but not always.)

Meas 3-4: Turning 1/4 (CW or CCW) to face the next person who was beside you to start the Fig, change places giving L hands in passing.

Meas 5-8: Turn to face opp again (two dancers moving CW make "Polite Turns") and repeat action of meas 1-4 back to place.


A Fig whereby cpl #1 progresses to the bottom from a starting pos of back-to-back in the ctr facing cpl #2. The following description is written for the dance "Glens of Angus" where M #1 starts facing W #2 and W #1 faces M #2.

Meas 1-4: Cpl #1 and #2 dance a half Reel of Four across the dance (passing R shldrs to begin). After passing L in the ctr, cpl #2 dances up to first place, finishing on the wrong side. As cpl #1 meet in the center, give R hands with a wide hold and turn each other 1/2 CW while moving dn to finish facing cpl #3 across the dance (M #1 facing W #3, W #1 facing M #3).

Meas 5-8: Cpls #1 and #3 repeat action of meas 1-4, cpl #3 finishing in second place on the wrong side and cpl #1 facing cpl #4 across the dance.

Meas 9-12: Cpls #1 and #4 repeat action of meas 1-4 except that cpl #1 does not turn with R hands but dances directly into fourth place on the wrong side, while cpl #4 finishes in third place on the wrong side.


Joined hands are held at shldr height. The correct hold for leading and turning (one hand) is the Handshake Hold. When a fast turn is danced the elbows are well bent and kept close to the body. On a longer turn, the arms are held easily extended. If a two-hand turn is danced, M hands are on the bottom supporting W hands on top.


M on W side of the dance, W on M side.


Printed in the San Diego State University Folk Dance Conference Syllabus, 1974.

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