I’m looking forward to teaching another five-week session of Cape Breton step dancing classes at the Carrboro ArtsCenter in July and early August (Wednesdays from 6:15 to 7:15 pm). You can find out more about the class, including how to register, on the ArtsCenter website.
We will learn the basic “step-shuffle-hop” step that was covered in the previous class, but all the other material will be new. Hope to see you there!
A couple of my dance students have been asking me about Cape Breton square dancing, so I’ve put a little information together for this post.
Most of the dances I’ve been to have taken place in the southern part of Inverness County, on the western side of the island, usually late at night in a community hall located on a dirt road in what feels (to my big city sensibilities) like the middle of nowhere.
Although I understand that each community used to have its own particular square set, at almost every dance I’ve been to everyone does the West Mabou version, which I understand has kind of taken over as the most popular set, at least in Inverness County (someone correct me if I’m wrong).
The dance consists of three figures: two jigs and a reel. Here’s a description of the figures provided by a regional tourism company, and a video of dancers doing the second figure at Glencoe Mills. As you can see, the jig step (or what the description calls the “Mabou Shuffle” is very simple, just step-shuf-fle step-shuf-fle, or sometimes step-shuf-fle hop-shuf-fle).
The reel figure is a little more complicated, although if you’ve done any Appalachian square dancing or contra dancing it will probably seem pretty straight-forward to you. This kitchen party is the best-lit example I could find of the Mabou reel set (I also find it particularly nice to see a bunch of young people dancing together). At a regular dance hall you would see several of these sets happening at once.
At some point during the evening, the musicians will play a set of tunes, starting with strathspeys and moving into reels. Often solo dancers will hop up and perform a few steps like this example in West Mabou.
I also wanted to mention the Cape Breton Scotch Four, which is figure taken directly from Scottish dancing. This example (also from West Mabou) starts out as strathspey and moves into reels. Note that everyone is doing his/her own steps until the very end, where they all go into the backstep I showed you briefly in our last class.
A new beginner session of Cape Breton step dancing will be held at the Carrboro ArtsCenter from July 9th to August 6th. Visit the ArtsCenter website for more information.