Resources for dancers

Whether you have just started dancing or have been at it since you started walking, you are likely to find that questions keep popping up!

  • How did that formation go?
  • What do those puzzling dance instructions really mean? 
  • Might there be a mistake?

From this page you will be able access all sorts of helpful means of answering any questions you may have, as well as lots of other useful information. We are always expanding this page and adding content, so please make sure to keep coming back as new resources for dancers will always be available for download.

If you have any suggestions please feel free to get in touch with the RSCDS Office.

Resources for dancers

Please click on the header to expand the section.

The Manual offers a great deal of fascinating information on music, dance history and the history of the Society; but crucially, the Manual is the Scottish Country Dancer’s ultimate reference source on how to dance. It gives details of how to perform steps and formations, as well as other useful information and corrections to published RSCDS dances.

A print version of the Manual can be bought from the shop and an electronic version can be purchased and downloaded by visiting the the RSCDS shop.

The print version of the Manual is revised every few years but interim changes can be accessed on the publication updates page, which also contains notes and corrections to other RSCDS publications.

The Manual of SCD      Publication Updates

Dance instructions are not always entirely clear or completely comprehensive and there are similar problems with details of dancing technique. For those of you keen to nail precise details of individual dances, formations or steps, an advisory panel of experts is on hand to give you considered opinions and clarifications on specific issues. Browse through their guidance in Technique Panel - Dances, and Technique Panel - General or contact us with your queries.

Technique Advisory Panel: General      Technique Advisory Panel: dances

There are lots of other useful documents to download if you choose: more dance notes, an index of RSCDS dances, a guide to dance terminology and many more!

And don’t forget the Wee Green Book (Scottish Country Dance in Diagrams), now in its 9th edition (2018). For some people, the only way to learn a dance is to read its ‘Pilling’ diagram. The Wee Green Book is handy as a crib on the dance floor too, a faithful companion tucked into many a sporran or handbag. 

The Wee Green Book 

To help you read the diagrams found in all our dance books please visit My Strathspey, where Keith Rose has created wonderful descriptions. 

Key to Symbols used in Dance Diagrams

There are so many dances that it may seem hard to identify ones that fit your particular purposes; the RSCDS’s 2008 Selection of Core Dances can help you.

It is not a definitive list of the best or most popular dances, simply a selection compiled by experienced dancers and teachers designed to:

  • Provide inexperienced dancers with a manageable repertoire of dances that appear on dance programmes
  • Provide teachers and dancers with a structured list of dances containing the principal formations of Scottish Country Dancing
  • Provide programme devisors with a common base from which a part of any dance or ball programme can be developed in order to encourage inexperienced dancers

An updated edition of this, the Core Repertoire 2016, has more of an emphasis on teaching – why not read through and compare them?

Can’t remember where to find that RSCDS dance you liked? Download the Dance Index and find out! The updated 2017 edition covers all RSCDS dances up to and including Book 50.

Earlier editions of this Index were very well received by members, and we hope that this updated version will prove as popular.

Teachers and programme devisors may also like to download a really useful tool, the Beginners Framework, which tabulates formations in a large number of dances, enabling you to search for and identify dances with a particular formation.

Keen to write your own dance? You will want to use precise and internationally recognised SCD terms to make sure that everyone who reads it knows exactly what you mean, so consult the RSCDS Standard Terminology (2015 edition).

To quote the introduction to this book:

"Dance is a physical art form which is notoriously difficult to put into words, particularly the written word. It is not an exact science and there is no absolutely correct way of recording movements in a dance. It is hoped, however, that this document, by giving examples of phrasing, will offer some guidance on how movement and formations might be described."

Are you new to the RSCDS? Or perhaps need a refresher in what all those acronyms mean? This helpful list of the most frequent terms will help to explain some of the language you will find on this site.

How to read a dance programme

What does it mean if you come across a phrase like this:

R, 4 cpl, longwise, 8x32

This phrasing, or something similar to it, is quite common in Scottish Country Dancing and can be found in programmes, books, etc. When you get a dance programme you will see a lot information, and this is to help you recognise the many dances that will be danced throughout the evening.

The phrase above is interpreted like this:

  • R = The dance is a Reel (meaning the music will be in Reel time)
  • 4 cpl = The dance is for 4 couples; a set should contain 4 couples
  • Longwise = The formation of couples will be in a longwise set
  • 4x32 = The dance will be done 4 times, and each time will contain 32 bars. So in total, the dance will have 128 bars of dancing and music.

Armed with the above information you can then start to piece together what each dance will be and you can choose what you would like to dance!

To help you get started, here is a bit of quick information:

Type of dance & music
  • R = Reel
  • J = Jig
  • S = Strathspey (slower than a Reel or Jig)
Number of couples
  • 3 cpl = Three couples
  • 4 cpl = Four couples
  • 8 cpl = Eight couples
Type of set
  • Longwise (most common)
  • Round the room
  • Square
Length of dance
  • 4x32
  • 8x32
  • 8x64

In 2014 the RSCDS and TAC [Teachers’ Association (Canada)] collaborated to produce a definitive set of helpful Notes on Miss Milligan’s Miscellany, to clarify some of the ambiguities and inconsistencies that are found in the published instructions in this interesting book of dances. We are indebted to Pat Coyle, Ruth Jappy, Jean Martin and Mervyn Short for the time and diligence they brought to this project. We trust you will find the Notes useful.

Please note: the audio files are in a zipped folder, so you must unzip the folder in order to play the individual tracks.

This volume is complemented by an audioguide to pronouncing the dance titles, of which the project coordinator Jim Healy writes:

"In the course of the joint project with TAC to develop additional teaching notes for the Miscellany, it was agreed to continue with the practice from TACNotes of giving phonetic equivalents of selected titles which were believed to be particularly subject to mispronunciation.

The production of audio files of the pronunciation of the dance names in the Miscellany is intended only to give a sense of the common usage for the titles of the dances and not to be prescriptive. Pronunciation, particularly of family and place names, is a challenge because no two people pronounce anything in exactly the same way.

This is a pilot project and we would be interested in your views on whether it is useful and whether it should be expanded.

Particular thanks to Ian Muir, our Music Director, for his assistance in making the files more manageable."

During the Teachers' Conference at the 2017 AGM & Conference Weekend Mervyn Short gave a presentation on preparing a dance programme and highlighted various elements to think about when constructing your own programme.

Teachers/leaders of groups often have to prepare dance programmes for classes, events, balls, etc. and we would like to provide some tips in preparing the programme best suited for the occasion.

Are you interested in knowing what are the most popular dances found on programmes around the world? Campbell Tyler, member of the International Branch, has worked  on the Most Frequent Dance list for some time and has compiled a list of dances found most often on programmes.This list has been updated in 2020.

Thank you Campbell for sharing your hard work!

The many dance festivals around the UK have different dance choice criteria with classes based on age, ability, schools with small numbers, those for inexperienced dance teachers, RSCDS experienced classes as well as competitive and non-competitive sections.

It is also important to consider choosing dances that are compatible in standard and demand of ability.

Therefore a list, meeting all these requirements, would be extensive.

There is a wide range of dances to choose from in the three RSCDS Graded Books especially Books 2 and 3, which show progressive dance difficulty. These sit well alongside dances from the earlier published RSCDS books with traditional formations and more recent RSCDS books and leaflets displaying covering and formation combinations. Adjudicators may also be guided by the formations introduced at the different Medal Test levels and the dances suggested there.

Those new to festivals may wish the further advice, available through contacting the RSCDS office, where they can be put in touch with experienced adjudicators and festival organisers.

If you are happier learning dances visually, we have produced videos of all the dances from the recent books (Book 49 onwards) and those needed for the Unit 2 exams, and we are gradually creating videos of dances from earlier books too. Watch this space and enjoy!

Book 49 video playlist

Book 50 video playlist

Book 51 video playlist

Book 52 video playlist


Many Scottish country dancers and RSCDS also use the following websites for reference:

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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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