What is Scottish country dancing?

Fancy giving Scottish country dancing a go? Why not - it's great fun, helps you stay fit and is a wonderful way to make friends.


Here we answer some of the questions you might have, whilst busting some myths and misconceptions.

Dance has a special place in the culture of Scotland. Scottish country dancing is a healthy and fun activity enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds in Scotland and across the world. 

Dancers are normally grouped in sets, typically of three, four or five pairs arranged either in two lines (partners facing each other) or in a square. They work together to dance a short sequence of formations that provide a particular dance with its identity. Each pair gets the chance to experience the dance from different positions.

Because it’s great fun! It’s also a wonderful way to stay fit and to make new friends. Scottish country dancers mainly dance for pleasure, finding the shared experience of dance both physically and mentally enjoyable. 

Scottish country dancing is good for your physical health and your mental wellbeing, and also develops an awareness of music, culture and heritage. The steps and formations are easy to follow - but they help to keep your mind active. Classes are available for all ages, backgrounds and abilities. 

If you are completely new to Scottish country dance, don’t be nervous. Dance locally at your nearest Branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society to get a taste of what it’s all about. Classes can be aimed at a certain age groups but most classes are based on skill level. Once you’ve had a go you might like to come along to one of our annual events or one-off workshops.  

Dancing is very good for your heart and lungs and will also improve your balance and bone density. Scottish country dancers often have better agility, stronger legs and walk more briskly than other people. Learn more about the health benefits of Scottish country dance. 

Some dances are more physically demanding than others. Dancers are encouraged to be warmed up and stretched properly before they begin – and they should do the same after dancing. 

Scottish country dancing is also good for your mental health. Studies have shown that dance can help prevent dementia, improve cognitive skills and reduce depression and isolation.

Ceilidh is a more informal way of dancing and many people, particularly in Scotland, will be familiar with it from weddings and other social events. Scottish country dance is more formal but still has the elements of fun and friendship. 

The two forms are sometimes considered to be completely separate. But they have much in common and many Scottish dance groups will incorporate both into their activities. You can learn more about ceilidh dancing here. If you’ve been to a ceilidh, thought it was great fun and wanted to learn more, then Scottish country dancing could be perfect for you. 

No. Dancers should wear clothes in which they feel comfortable and can move easily; a wide skirt, leggings, or sports trousers for example. Some people wear a kilt for dancing but it is not essential. Beginners should wear any comfortable shoes with a soft non-slip sole, such as jazz or ballet shoes, canvas plimsolls, or trainers. 

Absolutely not. Scottish country dancing is perfect for individuals, couples or groups of friends and family. Dancers usually have a different partner for each dance. This adds to the social nature of the dancing and means that you get an opportunity to meet and dance with lots of different people.  

Nearly all Scottish country dances need at least six people to dance together and anyone can ask anyone else to dance. If you do have a partner, then bring them along - it’s a great way to stay fit and have fun together.

There is more emphasis on steps (footwork) than in ceilidh dancing and the formations can be a little more complex. But the basic techniques can be learned at any weekly classes or events organised by your local Branch or the RSCDS.  Whether it is your first time or you are a seasoned veteran, dancers welcome you to the floor and will gladly help you through the dances. It's all about fun! 

Learn more about the steps and techniques hereYou can also get a flavour of Scottish country dancing by watching some of our videos on our You Tube channel.

The music is absolutely vital to Scottish country dancing. It provides the rhythm for the dancers and is also just great to dance to! There are three principal rhythm types - Reel, Jig and Strathspey, although it is not uncommon to find a Waltz or a March thrown in for good measure.  

When you listen to recorded Scottish country dance music you will probably hear a fiddle, accordion, piano and percussion. At classes, there will most likely be an accordion or piano player - or recorded music. For bigger events, there could be a full band. 

To learn more about the types of music and to listen to examples, click here

The RSCDS is a membership-based charitable organisation, based in Edinburgh, which was founded in 1923 and is dedicated to the promotion of Scottish country dancing and its music. It has 160 Branches and over 300 Affiliated Groups in more than 50 countries. 

RSCDS members are global ambassadors for Scottish country dance, promoting the development of Scottish culture and heritage for current and future generations to enjoy. 

Many classes are run by the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society’s Branches or Affiliated Groups. As a newcomer you will be made very welcome. To locate a Branch or Group near you, please visit the Branch & Group Finder. Use the map to locate those closest to where you live - but do be aware that Covid restrictions may mean some Branches are reopening earlier than others. 

Each marker has a pop-up window that offers useful information on a Branch or Group: 

  • The website address: here you will usually find information on classes, and for some, details on other classes or clubs within the region 

  • The email address of the secretary: you can email them with a request for details of classes 

  • A link to the page where there may be further information about classes and local activities

If there is no local Branch, you can also take out an RSCDS Headquarters membership or join the International Branch. With exclusive online store discounts, discounts on selected RSCDS events and regular news and updates, you will be connected to a worldwide network of Scottish country dancers and musicians.  If you are aged between 12 and 35 you can take out a RSCDS Youth Branch membership

If you need any help, please email the RSCDS office at info@rscds.org and we will assist you with any membership queries. 

Sign up for the RSCDS eNewsletter

Sign up to:

  • Keep up to date with RSCDS events 
  • Join a worldwide community of Scottish country dance and music

Join an RSCDS Branch & receive member benefits

There are 159 RSCDS Branches and over 300 Affiliated Groups in more than 50 countries around the world, located on all continents (except Antarctica).

They organise and run classes, dances and other social events in their own areas and are committed to helping develop Scottish Dance and Music for future generations.

We encourage you to try Scottish Country Dancing for yourself to see just how much fun it can be, so please come along and learn how to 'Dance Scottish'. 

Wherever you are in the world there is most likely Scottish Country Dancing.

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