Have you ever wondered what happens in our University’s buildings during the many weeks that make up the summer holiday? Well, for four of these weeks they are filled with hundreds of dancers who travel to the University for the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society’s Summer School (RSCDS).
Moira Thomson, the Events Manager of the School told The Saint that this event is run every year in order to “reach more and more people from all over the world who have perhaps heard of Scottish Country Dancing or sampled it in their own countries, and want to learn more.”
“Additionally, we have many dancers who return year on year to improve their dancing and to meet up with fellow dancers who have become friends” she added.
This year’s Summer School runs from 17 July to 14 August, and during this time over 550 dancers of all ages and nationalities will congregate in St Andrews to learn the art of Scottish country dancing. The RSCDS have organised a variety of activities for the four week course including classes, ceilidhs, informal dances, junior courses aimed at 8-11 year olds, a musicians’ course and weekly formal balls at the esteemed Younger Hall.
As we know from University ceilidhs that take place throughout the school year, Scottish country dancing has universal appeal. This is reflected in the international enthusiasm for the Summer School as dancers from as far away as Australia, Japan, North America, Russia and Africa travel to St Andrews, along with a sizeable contingent from Scotland and the rest of the UK to experience and embrace this aspect of Scottish heritage. When asked about why Scottish dancing has such an international following, Mrs Thomson said, “Scottish country dancing has such an appeal because it’s a wonderful art form, beautiful to watch and extremely enjoyable to dance. It is accompanied of course by stirring music from some of the best Scottish dance musicians in the world.”
One such musician attending this year’s Summer School is Robert Mackay, a well-established pianist, dancer and honoured member of the RSCDS, who is celebrating his 40th consecutive year at the Summer School. Depsite the fact that Mr Mackay has a lot of experience in Scottish dance, he does not visit the School in the capacity of a dancer. “Although I have been dancing for 70 years, I go to Summer School as one of the pianists,” he said. “The reason I return each year is because I enjoy it so much. I have made many friends over the years from all over the world. I am also very keen to promote Scottish culture in particular Scottish music of the 18th and 19th centuries and indeed right up to date.”
As well as promoting the musical aspect of Scottish dance, Mr Mackay also points out that it is an enjoyable and healthy pastime that is accessible to everyone: “Scottish country dancing is good exercise at any age. It is very sociable and friendly. I have done it since primary school so it is very much part of my life. I would thoroughly recommend it to all students as a good form of relaxation.”
The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society Summer School is now in its 84th year, making it the longest running outside event hosted at the University. Mrs Thompson said, “We first came to St Andrews in 1927, and apart from the war years, have returned every summer since then.”
It is quite comforting to think that our beloved streets don’t become deserted in the summer, and that the quirky atmosphere of the town is appreciated by visitors such as Mrs Thomson, who considers it a “perfect venue for the Summer School.” She notes that this is due to the size of St Andrews and the fact that it is “also a beautiful town, with many amenities – golf, beach, fascinating historical buildings.”
Mrs Thomson particularly enjoys being able to base the School in University Hall, which she notes “has wonderful old rooms and grounds, as well as modern facilities for our dancers.” Another member of the RSCDS who appreciates the location of the Summer School is Mr Mackay, who said that the “surroundings of St. Andrews are a splendid bonus” and that “it is such a pleasure to wander round the town and sample some of the excellent restaurants.”
To read more about the RSCDS and their mission, you can visit their website: https://www.rscds.org/Content.aspx.