At a Christmas reeling ball

When you’re middle aged like I am, it’s really important to find a form of exercise you enjoy in order to stay healthy and active into later life.

I walk a mile to the railway station every day and walk up the stairs to a seventh floor office, but that’s not enough. I enjoy long walks with my husband and son and there are some beautiful routes near where we live in South West London, but that wouldn’t be enough either. It needs to be something weight bearing and aerobic.

Luckily there’s Scottish dancing. I first learned it at school and took it up again when I met my husband getting on for 25 years ago. We’ve been dancing together very happily ever since, at events ranging from social evenings where everyone has a few glasses of wine and dances to recorded music, to formal balls with a live band.

Scottish Dancing is a very social activity where you get to meet old friends and new. It can be done by any age from 8 to 80 and beyond, and indeed one of the very best things about it is seeing – and participating in – multi-generational parties all dancing together. There’s many other great things about it too and here are a few:

  • It’s great for teamwork and co-operation; the dances are typically for 8 or more people all of whom have their part to play, taking it in turns to move down (or occasionally, as in the Eightsome Reel) around the dance.
  • It’s mental as well as physical exercise as you have to learn some quite complex dances
  • You get to dress up and I don’t just mean black tie – some of the balls are white tie. Where else am I going to get the opportunity to wear a full-on ballgown (or my wedding dress, as in the picture) complete with tiara and not be overdressed?
  • You can have a few drinks and a laugh and meet lots of new people.
  • The music is incredibly uplifting and will bring a smile to just about anyone’s face.
  • At many events, you can help support charities. The grandest event on the calendar, the Royal Caledonian Ball, actually has its own charity which distributes tens of thousands of pounds every year to small Scottish charities as well as giving them publicity and exposure south of the border.

It was also through Scottish dancing that I became a YouTube star – yes, really! London Reels, one of the capital’s leading organisers of social daning events, asked us to participate in some of their dance tutorial videos and every now and again someone comes up to me at a ball and says they recognise me from YouTube (usually from the video for Inverness Country Dance)

At this stage perhaps I should mention that there are several different flavours of Scottish dancing, with the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society aka the RSCDS at one extreme (complex dances very precisely done with no messing about allowed) and ceilidh dancing at the other (simple, fun dances with a caller). I can dance RSCDS style but find it all a bit tame – my preferred dancing style is called Reeling and is in the sweet spot in between – relatively complex dances, no caller and messing about positively encouraged as long as you’re in the right place at the right time and in time with the music.

Reeling events aren’t always entirely Scottish dancing – many of the balls have a programme which includes “flatties” (so called because they are the flat races to reeling’s hurdles). Some flatties are:

  • Waltzes – my husband and I can waltz properly (or at least a convincing facsimile thereof) after being taught years ago for a Russian ball, but these days most people just shuffle around a bit in time with the music.
  • Quicksteps and Foxtrots – I was taught these at school, but I haven’t seen anyone do anything resembling that sort of quickstep or foxtrot. Instead people improvise with elements of rock 7 roll, Ceroc (for those of us who’ve been dancing since the nineties) or Knotentanz (for more recent comers).
  • Rock & Roll – needs no explanation, more Ceroc and Knotentanz with a smattering of extremely acrobatic improvisation from some of the younger dancers.

Indeed, the improvisation with elements of rock & roll and similar dance styles also pops up in reeling itself – the messing about I was talking about earlier. Why set and cast off when you could do a complicated and athletic but effortless looking lift instead and still get to the next part of the dance in time with the music and with a huge smile on your face?

About the best fun ever!

My husband and I are a bit old to attempt anything quite so spectacular but we do like to do parts of the dances at double speed and that is certainly aerobically intense.

Reeling isn’t for everyone – some people find it too boisterous – but if you are interested in giving it a try, London Reels run early evening teaching sessions before every social dancing event and PGT Reels run a teaching evenng once a month.

If you don’t fancy reeling or any of the other forms of Scottish dancing, there’s many other types of dancing you can try, from line dancing to Zumba. According to two recent studies reported in Time magazine, dancing is particularly beneficial in preventing age related deterioration because it combines mental and physical exercise. That’s plenty good enough for me!