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A Look Into The Kaleidoscope

Patterns form one of the main ingredients of Scottish country dancing. We all love looking at beautiful patterns, whether on the dance floor or through a kaleidoscope – the tubular children’s toy with mirrors that produces symmetrical coloured images –, and as Scottish dancers we are of course used to actually being part of the patterns ourselves. “SCD Kaleidoscope”, the conference which took place on 3–5 July in Thoiry, France (near Geneva), gave dancers, teachers, and musicians a chance to be part of a new kind of “pattern”: Instead of being yet another weekend school where renowned teachers and musicians take an international crowd of dancers through their paces, Kaleidoscope’s focus was on the exchange of views on the background behind the dance – dancing, teaching, music, organising events, history, and the future of dancing. The mixture was seasoned with various practical sessions and a well-attended evening ball. The venue for Kaleidoscope was the Holiday Inn hotel at Thoiry, whose staff made every effort to make the event a success. If only the “dance hall” at the hotel had been a little larger – with nearly 70 attendees from all over the SCD world map crowding in, there was enough floor space for about two and a half sets only …

SCD Kaleidoscope was on a very tight schedule and it is impossible to mention all the interesting presentations and discussions that took place during the jam-packed weekend. Here are some of the talks that I found most interesting and fun: Angela Young opened on the Friday night (after a somewhat hurried buffet dinner) with a fun romp through a century of Scottish dance music that taxed our facilities to place tunes, styles, and bands to the utmost. On Saturday, Bruce Hamilton outlined a “novel approach to dealing with mistakes” that every SCD teacher ought to be looking into – the idea is to prevent dancers from thinking that mistakes are a bad thing (so they tie themselves into knots trying to avoid them at all costs) and instead to train them to view mistakes as something inevitable and to deal with them creatively if they occur. (Unfortunately, Bruce says, this only works with new, “unspoiled” dancers.) Bruce Herbold revisited some RSCDS dance reconstructions and tried to shed new light on them, while Malcolm Brown presented a number of new variations on well-known formations that occur in recent (non-Society) dances, based on a document he has been researching in order to explain “non-RSCDS” formations in the style of the RSCDS Manual. Sunday morning saw various organisers of workshops and conferences sharing their insights, including Keith Smith, Irene Paterson (of “Scottish Dance Masters” fame), and Susi Mayr, who together with Jerry Reinstein, Jeff Robertson, and Pia Walker co-organised Kaleidoscope. We all had a good laugh when Bruce Hamilton (again) confessed he had put “MC Duties” on the application form where it said “What can you contribute?”, thinking he was volunteering to act as MC for the ball – but the conference organisers then put him down for a talk on “The MC’s Duties” instead! So in the end he did both.

Two big slots at the conference were reserved for panel presentations. The first took place on Sunday before lunch; under the heading of “The Future of SCD: Can we get there from here?”, David Hall, Irene Paterson, Andrew Timmins and I each gave a five-minute “position statement” followed by a brief discussion before launching into a discussion among all attendees. Unfortunately, by this time we were already running much later than planned, and the discussion digressed into whether it made sense to have warm-ups for SCD until it was time to break for food! This part of the event, sadly, had been what the organisers, panelists and many attendees had been especially looking forward to and it was a bit of a let-down. After lunch, Alex Gray (RSCDS chairman), Ruth Beattie (chairman-elect), Liz Foster (executive officer), and Helen Russell and William Whyte (convenors of the Education & Training and General Purposes/Finance committees, respectively) took the stage to present the RSCDS view of things. Again, this served as somewhat of a disappointment for many attendees as this presentation consisted mainly of a “don’t worry, things may be looking bad but we have everything in hand” (which not everyone in the audience found easy to believe), and none of the points from the earlier panel – some of which would arguably have deserved some time – were addressed at all except in passing.

Summing up, on the whole the conference organisers did a splendid job, and the only thing we could have wished for was more time! The organisers’ idea was that everybody should be able to attend all presentations, and that together with the very illustrious line-up of presenters led to a schedule where talks followed one another in 25-minute slots that left little time for actual discussion or the in-depth examination of interesting topics. For example, with the Internet playing a more and more important role in disseminating dances, I would have loved to see Simonetta Balsamo’s survey of dance notation systems extended to cover the future of SCD notation, too! It would make sense for future similar events to either add another day (or two?) or hold several “tracks” of talks in parallel even if that means that people will have to pick and choose. But these are obviously details that will be straightforward to sort out.

It is clear that an event like SCD Kaleidoscope isn’t for everyone – many members of our community would much rather dance than discuss, and there is nothing wrong with that! But it is also clear that we need the discussions, too: There must be a venue where those people who are interested in the underpinnings of our shared pastime can get together and work towards the future of SCD. It was also well that the leadership of the RSCDS, while present in force, stayed very much “in the wings” most of the time, which made for a lot more open discussion than one might have found, say, during the AGM weekend. In that sense, SCD Kaleidoscope was an unqualified success. I, for one, can’t wait for SCD Kaleidoscope 2 to continue the pattern!

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You see things, and you say »Why?« But I dream things that never were, and say »Why not?«
– George Bernard Shaw