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The dominant dance forms in Scottish dance are country dancing, nowadays danced round the world in the form popularised to a large extent by the RSCDS; and Highland dancing which has been formalised by the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing (SOBHD) and other associations of dance teachers.
Country dancing is mainly for social purposes, though there are also display dances. The dances vary in tempo and style from slow elegant strathspeys to fast intricate reels.
Highland, in which the so-called National dances may be included as well as the world famous sword dances, is largely for competition and display. Additionally, Highland steps can form part of many country dances.
The origins of some of the hard shoe and ancient Highland and Hebridean dances go back so far that much of the information about devisors, reasons for the names of the dances and indeed some of the steps has long since been lost. The style of the dances from the Outer Hebrides differs from those with their origins on the mainland. This can be partly attributed to the ancient Norse influence and ways of life remote from the rest of the UK. Many of the dances have been passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. As with all oral traditions, inaccuracies in passing on information in this way mean that the same dance appears with different steps in different areas of Scotland and the Islands. Hard shoes were everyday wear and no doubt the hard shoe dances were performed wherever and whenever groups of dancers and musicians came together.
The Scots always seem to have used whatever music was available and suitable to the surroundings. For a dance in a house in the western or northern isles, a single fiddle was usually sufficient - a piper would have been overpowering. The piper figures more in a large hall or outside setting. For a dance at local assembly rooms, a small orchestra was used. If nothing else was available, someone sang one of the traditional puirt-a-beul songs, usually nonsense verses which could be sung without a pause at the speed needed.
Scotland has a vast heritage of dance with the most diverse styles imaginable. In the 1800s a new dimension was added to Scotland's traditional dances by the influence of the peripatetic dancing masters. A number of these teachers had spent time in the French Court and their abilities as choreographers as well as teachers became something of a legend, bringing dance teachers from far afield to Scotland to observe their work. Many of their pupils were the daughters and sons of the lairds and landowners, and many of the ladies step dances date from this time.
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