If you attended a Scottish high school any time after 1940, you very probably took part in mandatory Scottish country dancing, or social dancing, lessons as part of the P.E. curriculum. You’ll probably remember the experience, even if you couldn’t talk me through a Dashing White Sergeant off the top of your head. While your teachers may have crowed that they were teaching you important social skills that you’d use as adults*, the forcing together of gym-clad adolescent bodies, the mandatory opposite sex hand-holding and the terminally, terminally uncool pointed-toe skipping all leave the sort of impression that few former teenagers forget.
Meet Jean Milligan, LLD. She’s the reason you feel this way. As Head of Physical Training at Jordanhill College for thirty-nine years, an estimated 40,000 future P.E. teachers passed through Jean’s hands. She was also the driving force behind the creation of the Royal Scottish Country Dancing Society, and many, many other organisations with similar aims. Jean could be said to have singlehandedly rescued Scottish country dancing, revived its fortunes, pushed it into schools and popularised it all over the globe. I’ve just finished reading a biography which left me equally in awe of and exhausted by her.
Getting back to you, though. Have you ever found that, actually, those lessons did their job? Have you been at a wedding or ceilidh with absolutely no intention of dancing, been dragged up for a Gay Gordons and found that you just knew what to do? That those dances seem to have been lying there, somewhere in your physical memory, perhaps one of the only things that everyone who went to school in this country can claim to have in common.
I’m beginning to write a play, working title Take Your Partners. Some of the things it may be about: Scottish country dancing, physical memory, adolescent awkwardness, Scottishness, ‘Scottishness’, Jean Milligan and her unstoppable energy, socialising, social class, the Twentieth Century, teenage lust, group politik, history, culture.
If you’ve got any memories you’d like to share with me, that may eventually become part of the play, I’d absolutely love to hear them. I’ll give full credit to any stories that form part of the piece, unless it’s all still too traumatic and awkward and you’d like to remain anonymous. I’m going to be pulling together stories over the next couple of weeks. Please do get in touch: kirstin [a t] wordsperminute [d o t] org [d o t] uk.
THANK YOU. x
*Okay Ms Viviani, you were right. I bloody love a ceilidh at a wedding, I do.