Scottish Country Dancing Receives a 21st Century Etiquette Update

Scottish country dancing, a traditional form of social dance from Scotland, is getting a modern makeover. The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (RSCDS) has introduced new inclusive etiquette guidelines for dancers that bring this historical pastime into the 21st century. As the society prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary next month, these updated rules aim to promote diversity, respect personal boundaries, and make country dancing welcoming for all.

Background on Scottish Country Dancing

Scottish country dancing emerged in the 17th century and became popular at social events across the country. The traditional dances involve groups of couples following set formations and steps, led by a dance caller who provides instructions. Well-known ceilidh favorites such as the Gay Gordons, Dashing White Sergeant, and Strip the Willow are staples at weddings, parties, and other celebrations.

The RSCDS formed in 1923 to preserve and promote this beloved part of Scottish culture. With over 300 branches worldwide, the society has played a key role in spreading country dancing internationally. Thousands of people from a diverse range of backgrounds now enjoy Scottish country dancing. As the organization approaches its 100th anniversary, updating the etiquette guidelines has become a priority.

Overview of New Etiquette Rules

The RSCDS wants to ensure Scottish country dancing remains inclusive, respectful, and welcoming as it continues evolving. Their new etiquette guide sets standards aligned with 21st century norms and values. Key changes include:

  • Using gender-neutral language. Phrases like “ladies’ side” and “men’s side” are replaced with non-binary terms.
  • Personal choice in dance partners. Dancers can choose whom to dance with rather than being paired by gender.
  • Respecting boundaries. Dancers should not pressure others to partner up. “No means no.”
  • Avoiding unwarranted feedback. Only provide input if a fellow dancer requests it.
  • Ban on inappropriate conduct. Sexist, racist, homophobic or other harmful behavior will not be tolerated.
  • Creating a safe environment. The guidelines aim to make country dancing comfortable for all.

The RSCDS emphasizes these are not strict requirements, just guidance. Individual dance callers can incorporate the rules as they see fit when leading events. The goal is to promote inclusivity while retaining the spirit and traditions of Scottish country dancing.

Reactions to the New Rules

The etiquette changes have received positive feedback so far. Dancers and leaders appreciate the RSCDS taking action to make Scottish country dancing more welcoming.

Brian Watson, a long-time country dance caller, said: “I’m pleased to see the society being proactive about diversity and respect. While the essence of the dances remains the same, some old-fashioned elements can be updated to reflect today’s social norms.”

Others in the Scottish dance community have also voiced approval. Ellie McNair, a teacher with over 20 years of experience, remarked: “Country dancing should be fun and friendly for everyone. These guidelines will help ensure that stays true.”

A minority have expressed concerns the changes could clash with tradition. But most agree that promoting inclusivity and safety should take priority, even if that means modernizing aspects of this historic activity.

Impact and Analysis

Implementing the new etiquette guidelines will likely have several positive impacts:

  • Increased diversity– Emphasizing inclusivity and using gender-neutral language could draw more participants from marginalized groups. Scottish country dancing may start to reflect the diversity of contemporary society.
  • Renewed popularity– The updates could generate interest from younger generations. Striking a balance between time-honored tradition and modern values may appeal to new demographics.
  • Clearer standards– Concrete etiquette rules provide clarity for new dancers joining the scene. They know what to expect at events right from the start.
  • Safer spaces– Guidelines like “no means no” and banning inappropriate conduct establish healthier boundaries. This ensures country dancing remains an uplifting social activity.

The RSCDS made these etiquette changes voluntarily, without external pressure. Amending rules to align with shifting societal expectations shows proactive leadership. While a few traditionalists oppose tweaks to the status quo, making Scottish country dancing more welcoming is widely viewed as the right decision.

The new guidelines leave room for diversity in implementation too. Individual dance callers and local communities can adapt protocols in ways that feel comfortable. This flexibility will help the etiquette overhaul gain mainstream acceptance.


Scottish country dancing has come a long way from its 17th century origins. Although the essence remains unchanged, the RSCDS recently updated its etiquette guidelines to better suit 21st century sensibilities. Emphasizing inclusivity, safety, and respect modernizes this traditional activity without sacrificing its spirit. Early feedback on the etiquette changes is largely positive, as most recognize the value of bringing Scottish country dancing into the present day. These rules provide a framework, but leave room for diversity in how groups interpret them. Ultimately, preserving this cherished part of Scottish culture depends on ensuring it stays relevant. The new etiquette guide represents an important step in that direction.

Frequently Asked Questions

What prompted these etiquette changes?

The RSCDS wanted to update Scottish country dancing etiquette to align with modern values and norms around inclusion, diversity, consent, and respect. This will help attract new generations of dancers.

Do the rules ban all gendered language?

No, the guidelines remain flexible for dance callers. But gender-neutral terms are recommended when possible to promote inclusivity.

Can individual groups opt out of the new etiquette?

Yes, since these are voluntary guidelines. But most groups are eager to make country dancing welcoming for all.

What if some dancers don’t follow the new etiquette?

Hopefully peer pressure and cultural shifts will lead to widespread adoption. But enforcement remains up to individual dance callers and organizers.

Will this etiquette overhaul actually work?

Early positive reception is promising. Creating a framework for inclusivity is an important first step. Time will tell how successfully these changes are implemented.

Final Thoughts

  • Updating Scottish country dancing etiquette shows proactive, socially-conscious leadership by the RSCDS.
  • Making traditional activities like country dancing more inclusive and respectful is widely viewed as positive progress.
  • Balance is key – bringing etiquette into the 21st century without sacrificing the spirit and essence of this historic pastime.
  • Flexible guidelines allow room for diversity, while setting clear standards around safety, consent and inclusivity.
  • Early positive feedback indicates the RSCDS made the right call. This etiquette overhaul seems poised to make Scottish country dancing more welcoming and socially relevant.


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