2022: Les Danses Antiques

Public Lecture Fund: 2022 Recipient 

We awarded Les Danses Antiques £150 based on this application: 

Short description of event (max. 250 words):

Scottish dance style reached international recognition at the end of the 18th century promoted by the Scottish Enlightenment. The Royal family including George the IV and Princess Charlotte engaged in Scottish dances encouraging the cultural dialog between the Scottish and English subjects. This culminated with 2 Scottish themed balls during the royal visit to Scotland in 1822 - the first such visit after 150 years of tension and conflicts. 

This project is focused on recreating and filming the “Strathspey for two” - the opening dance at the Peers Ball during the visit of George IV to Scotland in 1822. The reconstruction will be based on the steps described in the manuscript Contre-Danses a Paris, 1818 (GB-En MS 3860) owned by the National Library of Scotland (permission to use the source has been received), as well as in available first-hand accounts. The film will showcase the recreated performance of the dance in period costumes, performed at the library and a grand salon in the Newhailes House in Edinburgh (NTS). The video will feature a demonstration of the individual steps performed by a professional dancer (Sam Gosk), with musical context and accompaniment on a baroque violin by a specialist in period performance and 18th-century Scottish music (Dr Aaron McGregor). The dance part will be preceded by historical background and overview of Scottish dance and music of the time.

The resulting video and research will be shared through the social media channels of participating organisations, through workshops and talks including the specialised research conferences.

How will this event meet the objectives of the club? (max. 250 words):

The year 2022 will mark 200 years since the George IV’s visit to Edinburgh which Sir Walter Scott encouraged and organised. A lot has been written about the cultural legacy of this visit for Scotland and for perception of the Scottish culture internationally. However, the balls and their dance and music repertoire of reels and strathspeys were rarely given a spotlight. What these reels and strathspeys performed at the Peer’s and Caledonia Hunt Balls were like? Do we still dance them today the same way as in Scott’s time? 

Scottish dance and music were not banned after the 1745’s rising and became one of the main media to express national identity in the 18th century. Moreover, the humble reels and strathspeys managed to cross the class and national barriers. By the end of the 18th century, they were enjoyed in different social contexts - village greens, stages, and ballrooms throughout Britain. John Gibson Lockhart in his “Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott” (1901) indicated that Scott attended the Dance Assembly in Edinburgh as a young man as it was the practice of the time for an educated person. 

Scottish dance and music still enjoy international popularity today. This project aims to connect the modern audience with the Edinburgh residents of Scott’s times through the project’s deliverables and media, to highlight their importance for understanding the cultural landscape and to establish a reference point in the development of the Scottish dance tradition.

How the funding helped:

Project article (pdf)

Video link

Alena presented the project at the following conferences:

51st Annual Conference British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (Jan 2022): Alena Shmakova "Strathspey Minuet: French rules, Scottish spirit''

5th Historical Dance Symposium (Germany, Jun 2022): Dance Assemblies in Georgian Edinburg (poster)

European Association for Dance History Annual Conference 2022: ''War, Peace & Politics in Dance''

Talk:  'Political balls in the Scottish capital between 1746 and 1822'

Workshop: 'Dancing for the King: recreation of Strathspey for two based on the Strathspey setting steps from the Contre-Danses à Paris, 1818' MS (Ms 3860, NLS)'