This Ain’t No Disco

Yep, more about Hawaii. I rambled on a fair bit about the place.

One of the things I liked best about growing up in Scotland was the fact that, other than a brief six month-interlude when my mother bribed me with Jelly Babies to attend ballet lessons, nobody made me dance in public. Towering above my diminutive Glaswegian classmates, I was happy to skulk away my otherwise relatively happy school years attempting to draw as little attention as possible to myself, so it was an enormous relief to me that nobody thought of making us show our paces at any such embarrassing national arts. We didn’t learn Scottish country dancing or Highland dancing, which seemed perfectly reasonable when we lived neither in the country or in the Highlands. In fact, if you had asked me during the 20 years I spent living in Scotland, I would have been hard pressed to tell you the difference between these two types of tartan tomfoolery, although I might have been able to muster a suggestion that the Highland version involved swords. The only Scottish dancing I was to be found attempting was a glum left foot-right foot shuffle at an occasional school disco, an ungainly stumble round the sides of Tiffany’s rollerdisco on a Saturday afternoon and perhaps a jokey waltz to a Corries record with my dad at Christmas. Fast forward all these years and I am the only person at Hawaii’s Scottish Country Dancing weekend who can’t even do a single basic Scottish country dance step.

I attempted to get a head start on my land’s legworks this afternoon as I flew out of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge glowing rusty Irn Bru-orange in the February sun below me. As the stately stripe—an exact colour match for Scotland’s national soft drink—dwindled into miniature against the bottle green of the Marin Headlands, I stared at tiny, faded, perplexing pages covered in neat numbers, tidy boxes, precise circles, careful arrows, tight lasso lines. I flipped slowly through, without a sliver of comprehension dawning. If I mapped out the patterns of a disoriented bee, plans for an unnecessarily complicated cartoon heist or table revisions for a large wedding at which half the family refuses to be seated facing an objectionable aunt, they wouldn’t look too dissimilar. The text throughout my in-flight reading material—the revised 1950 editions of “Scottish Country Dance”—didn’t help me overcome doubts about this weekend’s attempts to become a better, more rounded Scot. In Betty’s Wedding, they instructed me, “First couple turn right hands one-and-a-half times and cast down one place on other side. First couple dance half figure of eight round second couple. Who move up on seven-eight.” During another reel I would theoretically be supposed to be responsible for some part of, “Grand Chain. Pass partners twice and return to places. Turn partners, right hand. All set to partners with Strathspey steps. Each three couples dance reel of three.” Bonnie Glenshee didn’t look any simpler. It resembled like a tricky scientific formula with three densely typed pages of instructions and four entirely unrelated-looking diagrams. I scanned with dismay other examples of my homeland’s fancy footwork. Maybe I should have picked an easier nationality to become.

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