World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers

First Appearance in SF EDF: 2001

Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers, founded in 1981, is a company dedicated to keeping alive the spirit and form of Scottish dances, old and new. Their repertoire spans four centuries of dance tradition. In addition to the traditional Scottish country dances and Highland dances familiar to most audiences, they also include historic period dance and step dances.


GENRE: Highland, Step, and Country Dances
TITLE: Glenfinnan: A Tribute to Muriel Johnstone
DANCERS: Ethan Bailey, Jared Bailey, Levi Bailey, Glenn Brownton, Mark Burt, Kathy Clark, Kristi Closser, Mary Counihan, Morris Fung, Ann Glenn, John McComas, Cally McCondochie, Dwayne McQuilliams, Mary McQuilliams, Jane Muirhead, Irma Novak, Pat O’Brien, Sylvain Pelletier, Mary Prout, Shari Salis, Cindy Sobrero, Lisa Strouse, Michael Turano, Victoria Williams, Tim Wilson, Tom Winter
MUSICIANS: Donald Robertson (percussion), Gary Thomas (piano/keyboards), Ron Wallace (recorder), Michele Winter (fiddle), Steve Wyrick (fiddle)

Photo by Mark Muntean


A nonstop suite of five dances celebrates the social exuberance, kaleidoscope geometry, and challenging footwork of Scottish dance, as Dunsmuir performs traditional highland, step, and country social dance. Artistic Director Ron Wallace sets patterns and staging to music by famed Scottish composer Muriel Johnstone, considered by many to be the greatest living composer of the genre.

The first dance, Glenfinnan, is highland dance originating in Scotland’s north countryside, a form representing nationalistic views over centuries. The dancers’ exaggerated and challenging kicking and leg-sweeping represents the kicking off of English trousers—in other words, kicking off the English who forced the Scots to wear them. And of course, there’s the joyful dance of returning to the kilt.

Smailholm Tower, a men’s dance with echoing patterns, is named for a 15th-century signal-fire tower built on the English-Scottish border. It’s a form called strathspey, danced with masculine style. The time is 4/4 common time: a quick down beat followed by a longer beat creates a short/long effect. The hands and arms represent the antlers of the highland stag.

Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers opened with the women performing fancy footwork in a jig, with a light, happy, dotted 6/8 rhythm. The men join for a patterned reel of four, connecting arms, executing patterns part of this social dance for centuries.

The Black Grouse is a hardshoe percussive dance from the western isles, the oldest Scottish dance formation after the circle, dating back to the 1600s. Eight couples elaborate on the square and chain with spins and special steps.

The finale, The Gary Thomas Rant, was written for the company’s assistant director, Gary Thomas. To be clear, in Scottish music, a rant is a guid (meaning,“good,” in Scots) thing—a tune with many notes at the beginning of a musical phrase. The piece is from an old dance form of Scottish ballroom dance, exemplifying the energy enjoyed by Scottish country dancers around the world, raising spirits with dizzying, mesmerizing patterns.

This piece was choreographed by Ron Wallace for the 2016 Festival as a tribute to Muriel Johnstone, in gratitude for her hundreds of tunes that touch on the traditional and stir hearts of dancers and musicians.

Musical instruments in this performance were traditional fiddle, flute, and piano. Costumes were ladies’ ballroom dress, and men’s kilts. In these modern kilts, pleats are stitched down flat; otherwise, the style and woven tartan design of this national garment has changed very little over time. Tartans represented Scottish clans including Brodie, MacDonald, Gunn, MacWilliam, Weir, Robertson, and McNeill of Barra.


GENRE: Scottish Victorian Ballroom
Dunsmuir’s Victorian Ballroom: Waltz Country Dance; Royal Scots Quadrille and New Caledonian Quadrille; Strathspey and Highland Reel; La Tempete
Gary Thomas, Ron Wallace
Christopher Amy, Glenn Brownton, Mark Burt, Kristi Closser, Mary Counihan, Morris Fung, Ann Glenn, Eleanor Hotchkies, John McComas, Dwayne McQuilliams, Mary McQuilliams, Jane Muirhead, Irma Novak, Pat O’Brien, Sylvain Pelletier, Donald Robertson, Shari Salis, Lisa Strouse, Michael Turano, Linda Turner, Victoria Williams, Tim Wilson, Tom Winter, Helen Wood
MUSICIANS: Gary Thomas (piano), Michele Winter (fiddle), Steve Wyrick (fiddle)


Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers transport us to Dunsmuir’s Victorian Ballroom, to experience Scottish country and step dances that provide a glimpse into the cultural traditions practiced as much of the world prepared for the historic Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

The performance begins with country dances, social dances performed with couples tracing progressive patterns. Progression is an essential feature of most Scottish dances, as dancers move through the patterns that they perform at least once in each position of the set.

The first dance is Waltz Country Dance, a Scots-style progressive around-the-room dance.

Next, the Royal Scots Quadrille and the New Caledonian Quadrille, presented in different rhythms – reel, strathspey (unique to Scotland), and back to reel. The quadrille is performed by four couples in a square, the head couple performing a dance figure repeated by the side couples. Phrasing is everything: the execution of figures in perfect time to the music. This dance was a French import, and the French contribution to Scottish dance in the Victorian era was profound. Enmity between France and England solidified a Scottish-France alliance, and many upper class Scots went to France for “finishing.” From elite Parisian ballrooms, they brought back fashionable new forms of dance. They put French steps and patterns to their own music, and within a generation, the quadrille was part of the fabric of the Scottish social dance scene.

The Strathspey and Highland Reel is a step dance, a dance with fancy steps. Scottish reels were very popular during this era. They gave the performers the opportunity to attract a potential partner.

La Tempete, or The Tempest, highlights the popularity of the galop and the Victorian passion for group dances in longwise sets. Here the dancers face each other in lines, each dancer beside his or her partner. For the galop, a couple faces another couple holding both hands and steps in the same direction, moving quickly with synchronized traveling steps, couples passing back to back as they travel.

The men wear Scottish tartans, with plaids delineating clans, including a MacDonald plaid muted with antique dyes; an ancient Gunn Highland clan pattern of muted colors; and a modern style purple with red periwinkle Montgomery kilt. The women wear replicas of historic Victorian gowns.



TITLES: Shetland Four-Hand Reel, The Maids that Tend the Goats, Set and Reel, Slip Jig, Strip the Willow
DANCERS: Chris Amy, Anastacia Mott Austin, Catherine Berner, Glenn Brownton, Mary Counihan, Marghie Goff, Helena Ivatt, Hildigarde Klee, Rachel Levine, John McComas, Dwayne McQuilliams, Mary McQuilliams, Zuriah Meacham, Jane Muirhead, Jordan Murphy, Pat O’Brien, Sylvain Pelletier, Donald Robertson, Becky Robinson, Shari Salis, Gary Thomas, Linda Turner, Victoria Williams, Timothy Wilson, Tom Winter
: Nick Clyde (recorders), Mike Hird (guitar), Ron Wallace (recorders), Michele Winter (fiddle), Steve Wyrick (fiddle)
VOCALS: VOENA, Voices of Eve and Angels with Director Annabelle Marie

In Scotland, May marks the beginning of Beltane, the traditional festival of spring. Beltane can be translated as "fires of Bel." It originated with the ancient Druids, who honored the Celtic fire god, Belenus, with dancing, fires, and music. The festival begins on Beltane Eve with two bonfires lit with nine different woods. In the Highlands, a tall wicker man is a central and exciting part of the conflagration.

Julius Caesar once wrote that the Beltane fires burned human sacrifices: he was hoping to discourage his troops from remaining in Scotland. However, the pragmatic Scots had other reasons for this ceremony. They lit the fires as they cleared the land, and led their animals between bonfires to eliminate disease and misfortune. They also lit brands from the fires to rekindled lights in their homes, marking a joyful and grateful release from the dark, fusty Scottish winter.

The Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers invite us to celebrate Beltane with a medley of Scottish country dance, step dance, jigs, and reels—from the Gaelic traditions of the mountainous Scottish highlands and the rugged Hebrides Islands, off Scotland's western shore. Ron Wallace choreographed The Maids that Tend the Goats and Strip the Willow in 2007 and adapted the remaining three dances for this stage. The traditional costumes are based on historical paintings. They exhibit buidhe (blue) for air, dearg (red) for fire, gorm (blue) for water, and uaine (yellow) for earth.

The first dance, Shetland Four-Hand Reel, has been part of island celebrations for centuries. The Maids that Tend the Goats celebrates the many gifts given by the elements. Set and Reel is from the glens of the Hebrides, accompanied by traditional Gaelic music from the northwest of Scotland. The Slip Jig is a fine example of Scottish solo or step dancing—“slip” referring to a treble rhythm that begs for the next beat, almost falling over itself. Strip the Willow suggests the peeling of the willow branch: villagers collect bark for dying fabric and bundle switches made of bare branches. Dunsmuir's musicians play the traditional tunes for each dance: Nick Clyde on recorders, Mike Hird on guitar, Ron Wallace on recorders, Michele Winter on fiddle, and Steve Wyrick also on fiddle.



TITLE: Kismul Castle, Dans Maen, and Peaceful Maiden
CHOREOGRAPHERS: Ron Wallace (Dans Maen and Peaceful Maiden), Farquart MacNeil (Kismul Castle), and Gary Thomas (Dans Maen)
DANCERS: Chris Amy, Stacia Mott Austin, Catherine Berner, Glenn Brownton, Stephanie Chalmers, Mary Counihan, Sandra Fritts, Marghie Goff, Helena Ivatt, Hildegarde Klee, Rachel Levin, Taylor Mayes, John McComes, Dwayne McQuilliams, Mary McQuilliams, Zuriah Meecham, Jane Muirhead, Pat O’Brien, Sylvain Pelletier, Jane Richer, Donald Robertson, Shari Salis, Bob Sholtz, Cindy Soberero, Gary Thomas, Linda Turner, Melinda Wallace, Victoria Williams, Tim Wilson, Tom Winter, Michele Winter, Helen Wood
MUSICIANS: Carleen Duncan (bodhran, vocals) Mike Hird (guitar), Bruce Maxwell (small pipes), Micah Reinhold (fiddle), Ron Wallace (soprano and tenor recorders)

Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers present a collage of three traditional style Hebridean dances. Artistic Director Ron Wallace and choreographer Gary Thomas traveled to the locations of each area from which the dances come and choreographed them upon their return. The suite is presented as a unified whole with a haunting dramatic stage design and costumes.

Hebridean Island life requires much travel by boat, therefore it is of little surprise that this element enters the dance repertoire, with themes of heralding guests socializing, drinking, and departing. The opening piece, Kismul Castle, is a modern interpretation of a traditional Hebridean island step dance. Performed by four dancers who are messengers, announcing the arrival, by boat, of the dancers.

Dans Maen (Stone Dance) and Peaceful Maiden are dances that combine legends of the British Isles, which refer to the awakening of the Merry Maids, or Stone Maidens. The Merry Maids are a mysterious, neolithic circle of nineteen granite stones in Cornwall, England, which have a gap or entrance at their most easternly point. It is thought that “Maiden” may be a misinterpretation of the Cornish word for stone (maen) and “Merry” may be a corruption of the word Ma-Ri, a pagan earth goddess. Legend has it that nineteen maidens were turned into stone as punishment for dancing on a Sunday. The “pipers”, two megaliths some distance from the circle, are said to be the petrified remains of the musicians who were caught trying to escape.



dancersDANCES: Da Slockit Light, The Shetland Reel, Jo's Delight, The Wallace Tower, and West Coast Step
CHOREOGRAPHY: Ron C. Wallace, Gary Thomas, Barb Campbell, Margaret Zadworny, and John Drewry
DANCERS: Chris Amy, Catherine Berner, Glenn Brownton, Mary Counihan, Marghie Goff, Lee Hamilton-Harris, Liz Harris, Helena Ivatt, Hildegarde Klee, Rachel Levin, John McComas, Dwayne McQuilliams, Mary McQuilliams, Zuriah Meacham, Jane Muirhead, Pat O’Brien, Melinda Palmer, Sylvain Pelletier, Donald Robertson, Shari Salis, Robert Sholtz, Cindy Sobrero, Edith Sumers, Gary Thomas, Linda Turner, Barbara Van Winkle, Victoria Williams, Tim Wilson, Tom Winter, Helen Wood
MUSICIANS: Mike Hird (guitar), Micah Reinhold (fiddle), Ron Wallace (recorder), Michele Winter (stand-up bass)

The Scots fought many battles to keep their independence. Although they joined England to become a single kingdom in the 18th century, they remain a distinct and proud people with a long and unique history. This venerable Celtic land is one of haunting beauty. Its rugged mountains, long cascading valleys and ribbon lakes contain ruins of many ancient castles and abbeys.

During the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Scots were kicked off their land, therefore the connection to and remembrance of their land became a strong emotional force. During this time Scots were not allowed to wear tartan or kilts, and were also forbidden to play bagpipes or dance their traditional dances. Consequently, Scottish dance exhibits much pride.

Over the years Scots have used music and dance to celebrate events, people and places. Couples and solo dancers interweave around each other creating intricate looping patterns. While there is a strong emphasis on footwork, all Scottish dances are done on the balls of the feet with an erect uplifted torso and arms held solidly at the sides.

In the 2005 Festival, Dunsmuir presents a suite of five dances spanning four centuries, speaking to various aspects of Scotland's arduous history. The first draws its inspiration from the precarious economic conditions of Scotland that caused its youth to move to larger communities on the mainland in search of broader opportunities. The piece, titled Da Slockit Light, was composed to symbolize the lights disappearing one by one as people moved on. The lights are used as a metaphor for the thread that binds to the soul of Scotland; the lights may seem to disappear, but they are simply lighting the way for another place in the world.

The second piece, a traditional Shetland Reel, derives its inspiration from the Shetland Islands. Two hundred miles north of Aberdeen, the islands are quite isolated keeping change to a minimum. It is believed that before Mary Queen of Scots returned to France, all Scottish dance was performed in hard-soled shoes.

The third piece, Jo's Delight, picks up the tempo and demonstrates three striking differences between traditional and contemporary Scottish dance: the use of soft shoes, a more expansive use of space, and modern music. The Wallace Tower is a modern social dance done in square formation that is based on the quadrilles used in France. The company concludes with the traditional West Coast Scottish Step Dance, one of the oldest living forms of step dance, which, over time and across oceans and lands, transformed into American Clogging and later, tap dance.


Dunsmuir dancersTITLES: Mckenzie of Seaforth, Calliope House, Dunsmuir Eightsome
Ron C. Wallace
DANCERS: Chris Amy, Glenn Brownton, Mary Counihan, Sheila Carter-Burke, Dwayne McQuilliams, Mary McQuilliams, Jane Muirhead, Sylvain Pelletier, Donald Robertson, Shari Salis, Bob Sholtz, Cindy Sobrero, Victoria Williams, Tim Wilson, and Tom Winter
MUSICIANS: Carleen Duncan (percussion-bodhran), Mike Hird (guitar), Micah Reinhold (fiddle), Ron Wallace (bagpipes and whistle), and Michele Winter (bass)

In the 2004 Festival, Dunsmuir presents a suite of dances spanning four centuries. These include dances performed to the more common reels and jigs of Northwest Europe, to the uniquely Scottish strathspey, referring to a river valley. The opening strathspey, McKenzie of Seaforth, celebrates the Seaforth Highlanders as six men describe their people's emblem, the antlers of a stag, and shout a Gaelic call. Scottish dances for men only are common as they have roots in the ancient pyrrhic dances used for military training. In the second dance, Calliope House, two couples weave intricate steps into the Reel of Four, considered the oldest dance formation in Scottish dance. In the final Dunsmuir Eightsome, four couples display modern variations on traditional dances as an honoring of the Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers.

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