Dance class brings Scotland to Columbia

Scottish dance class

As Scottish dances have done for centuries, feet tap and bodies spin in Bill McCullough’s Scottish country dance class that brings a bit of the culture to Columbia.

By Andrew Martin
March 7, 2016

Scottish bagpipes sing out from an iPod. Bodies dance fluidly and skillfully. Hands link as dancers spin in circles. Skirts twirl and feet tap along the floor – sometimes masterly, sometimes clumsily.

There are no kilts, but it’s clear Scotland has found its way to Columbia.

“When I’m dancing, I feel like I’m reliving history,” says Bill McCullough, who teaches the Tuesday evening Scottish country dancing class at Eastminster Presbyterian Church. “It’s amazing that we have a group here in Columbia interested in an old culture thousands of miles away and hundreds of years old.”

Kendall and Colleen Walker, for instance, have been dancing since 1992 – longer than McCullough. They come back most Tuesdays to stay connected to their Scottish heritage.

Dancers in a circle
“A Wee Nothin'” concludes with dancers kicking their legs in and out in a circle.

Colleen said they were surprised how much they learned through dancing the same steps their ancestors did centuries ago. The class provides a “window through time” to experience a “living and breathing” Scotland, she said.

Everyone should know their roots, said McCullough, who has Scots-Irish heritage. “I think it’s important that people have pride in their heritage, pride in their ancestors.”

Scottish country dancing combines the steps and figures of Highland dances and the circle, square and line formations of British and Irish dances.

The rhythms range from fast-paced reels to strathspeys, which in four-four time can envoke a slow elegance. The modern melody of “Auld Lang Syne,” though different from the original, is sometimes cited as an example of a strathspey.

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McCullough, 67, said he began dancing in 1998 to stay active while working at the Social Security Administration. He tried teaching scuba diving and refereeing children’s soccer, but dancing held his interest and kept him on his feet.

“When I first started it was hard. I could do the steps, but I couldn’t remember the dances,” McCullough said. “And now I, you know, tell me the name of the dance and I can tell you how to do it.”

Over the years, the class has performed at events such as Tartan Day South, the Aiken Highland Games and the annual Robert Burns Society of the Midlands dinner.

McCullough says he won’t hang up his shoes until someone comes along who can teach the class in his place.

Click on the image below to see a slideshow of McCullough’s class practicing a dance called “A Wee Nothin’.”

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Click photo for Slideshow
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