Virginia Barton

10 January 2016: Take Your Partners!


10 January 2016


We learned many a useful life-skill at my school. For example, how to write a cheque, how to curtsey, and how to do English Country Dancing. We lumbered through Sir Roger de Coverley, The Dashing White Sergeant, and Gathering Peascods.




There is nothing like dancing for meeting new people and making friends, but Scottish dancing is the quintessential ice-breaker. What’s more, unlike ballroom dancing it doesn’t matter a jot what your partner looks like as long as he knows the steps and patterns. Be it the Gay Gordons or a Strathspey Reel, his height, age, his red curls, halitosis, or dermatologically challenged skin (ie  spots) are incidental. There is no time for chat or flirting as you fling each other around, whirling into the centre of the circle with heels toes neatly pointing and trippitting!  (Who knows the names of the steps? I’ve forgotten..)


It has to be said that BH was not much cop at Highland dancing. His expertise for the fast waltz was legendary, and he swept more than one young lady off their feet. (He certainly didn’t have bad breath or spots.)

On one famous occasion, we found ourselves by mistake in the same formation of an Eightsome Reel as the Governor of Hong Kong. Of course he was a serious Scotsman in full kit including the correct soft shoes, with laces up the calf. He didn’t take kindly to BH not knowing the figures unless I bawled at him; or his cavorting in the centre of the Eightsome instead of “setting” tidily to the ladies on his left and right.

Worst of all, BH was in black tie, having no claim to a kilt in which he wouldn’t have been seen dead anyway.

We slunk off sharpish at the end but can laugh at the memory now. After all, who hasn’t put their foot in it?


If we did reels on St Andrew’s Night in November, then come St George’s in April it was time to learn The Lancers. This magnificent, complicated set of twelve figures was to be accompanied by the regimental band of the Marines. We were a party of twelve and we went to rehearsals in each other’s houses until we had it perfectly.

Then disaster. On the night of the Ball two of the party came down with ‘flu and had to be replaced – with a pair of South Africans; charming but clueless when it came to the intricacies of The Lancers. More bawling of instructions and frosty looks askance.


However, when The Foxtrot, The Veleta, and  The Quickstep struck up, we were put to shame by our friends from Jo’burg.

They were much too polite to bawl instructions.






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