Everybody seems to use right-shoulder passes between the diagonal half reels of four in Mairi's Wedding, but the other day somebody said that this was all wrong and that one ought to use left-shoulder passes instead. What gives?

asked 31 Oct '11, 15:56

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Hamish McGon...
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closed 16 Nov '11, 08:35

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The question has been closed for the following reason "I'm closing this question now; the debate appears to generate more heat than light. Send me e-mail if you have an interesting contribution and I'll re-open it." by anselm 16 Nov '11, 08:35


It depends :^) If you look at James B. Cosh's original instructions for the dance, they make the deviser's wishes quite clear — Cosh actually went to the trouble of putting an italicised notice right at the top of the dance description saying »N. B. Dancing couple passing left shoulder in centre«. That notwithstanding, passing right shoulder is a very common variation in social settings. (Note that we're specifically talking about social dancing here, not instruction and not display teams.)

The disagreement here is essentially between the purists and the pragmatists (to coin some arbitrary labels). The purists say that one ought to dance a dance the way its inventor wrote it down, while the pragmatists allow for »embellishments« and the »folk process« (meaning that if enough people prefer right shoulders, then right shoulders it had better be).

At the end of the day, every dancer (or dancing couple) need to decide this matter for themselves — the issue is out there and the right-shoulder passes are not going to go away. Essentially, whether you pass left shoulder or right is basically between yourself, your partner, and Jimmy Cosh's ghost. The rest of the set isn't touched by whichever way you decide. Conversely, the shoulder other people are using is not a matter for you to pronounce judgement on. SCD is supposed to be enjoyable, and some people enjoy doing things »by the book« while others enjoy »embellishment« (even if the embellishment has become so ingrained it is no longer a matter of spontaneous exuberance). Get used to it.

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answered 31 Oct '11, 15:59

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I have seen a couple of times how dancers passing right shoulder before reel of 3 confused with which couple they should do reel of 3. And this transition to reel of three looked unnaturally... I'm not a purist but I prefer to follow the original instructions in this case.

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answered 09 Nov '11, 11:20

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ogrian
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The problem is easily solved by refraining from using the wrong name for the dance; left shoulder passes if the dance to be done by those taking the floor is Mairi's Wedding, but if right shoulder passes are required the Dance is Mairi's Divorce – copies of this dance have been sold at Summer School by the RSCDS and by TACBooks, and both Mairi's Divorce and Mairi's Wedding have long been listed in reputable indexes such as the Napier Index and the Lothian SDB Index.

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answered 11 Nov '11, 05:59

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anguka
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I don't think that solves the problem at all. The problem isn't what to call the dance, the problem is really with people giving other people trouble about their choice of shoulder. This doesn't go away when the dance is called »Mairi's Divorce«, because then the people who preferred the original left-shoulder passes are »in the wrong«.

The actual solution, as far as I am concerned, is (a) teach the original dance in class as written (possibly with a remark that people should expect right-shoulder passes »in the wild«), and (b) »live and let live« on the social dance floor.

(11 Nov '11, 11:53) anselm ♦♦

It is not the name that is important; it is using words which accurately describe what they say, i.e. a different name for a different something. I remember a fairly new dancer some years ago going back for a holiday in Scotland, and in Aberdeen got up to do the Eightsome Reel and was quite cross that they had done it incorrectly and he messed it up. He eventually admitted that he might not have paid due attention to the word "Buchan" in the name when it was announced; it was a dance he did not know. As I said it is not the name which is important in itself; it is the fact that most dancers know what to do if an "Eightsome Reel" is called, and they know what to do (and it IS different) if a Buchan Eightsome is called. The name, sensibly used, gives them the information they need and so the problem of blame and right/wrong does not arise.

(12 Nov '11, 03:53) anguka

The situations are different. You can't have half the set doing the Eightsome and the other half doing the Buchan Eightsome at the same time while, with Mairi's Wedding, which shoulder you pass between reels makes absolutely no difference whatsoever to the other six dancers.

Also, Mairi's Wedding is probably among the 10 best-known dances in the world, but if you ask people how to do »Mairi's Divorce« chances are they'll just stare at you blankly until you tell them it is Mairi's Wedding with right-shoulder passes, at which point they will wonder why that should even be a different dance.

(13 Nov '11, 22:22) anselm ♦♦

"which shoulder you pass between reels makes absolutely no difference whatsoever to the other six dancers" – but it does to the dancing couple if one dancer doesn't know the difference; certainly smaller mayhem but mayhem nevertheless.

"Also, Mairi's Wedding is probably among the 10 best-known dances in the world"; from what I read above it suggests that it is not nearly as well known as some would have us believe!

"but if you ask people how to do »Mairi's Divorce« chances are they'll just stare at you blankly until you tell them it is Mairi's Wedding with right-shoulder passes" -- and if you ask the same people how to do "Mary Ross's Jig" chances are they'll just stare at you blankly until you explain that to them as well, even though it is a John Drewry dance. But some dancers do take the trouble to find out for themselves what they do not know.

"at which point they will wonder why that should even be a different dance" -- and to carry "do-your-own-thing" to greater extremes it would be a boring assembly indeed if the entire event was spent dancing Cumberland Reel as no one could understand why they should do another dance differently. If Cosh had not EXPLICITLY advised that correct left-shoulder passes in the half reels were part of his dance (called "Mairi's Wedding"), passing by the right could be seen as not understanding the principle of dancing reels, but if the devisor specifically identifies a hand, a shoulder, bars, a step (or even a formation!) in his/her dance it is part of that dance, and to alter it on an individual whim is to CHANGE the dance to something else.

This of course is not the only dance so misinterpreted. Not many people have read with care, or perhaps understood, the first eleven words of bars 25-28 of West's Hornpipe; an RSCDS dance, not altered (like so many RSCDS dances) since publication in 1965, and hardly ever done correctly; probably as with Mairi's Wedding being promulgated in early years by half-baked cribs and word-of-mouth instead of working from the original material. And it is a neater, more defined and precise dance when done correctly, for good dancers at any rate.

(14 Nov '11, 04:40) anguka

»… it is part of that dance, and to alter it on an individual whim is to CHANGE the dance to something else« But if one prints the change as a leaflet and sells the result at Summer School it suddenly becomes OK? I'd call that a deliberate rip-off.

In fact, as a dance author I'd have more of an issue with somebody changing a small aspect of one of my dances and publishing the result under a different title than with impromptu changes on the social dance floor that don't impinge on others. (I emphatically agree that dances should be taught as per the deviser's wishes.)

(14 Nov '11, 16:48) anselm ♦♦

"But if one prints the change as a leaflet and sells the result at Summer School it suddenly becomes OK? I'd call that a deliberate rip-off."
I do not know of anyone who has done that, and if a member is troubled that The RSCDS should levy a handling charge for selling donated items it is no business of mine. With such a comment it would seem that this thread, which started with a genuine question about dance instructions and interpretation and genuine attempts to provide sensible answers, has now strayed from intellectually precise debate on the subject to innuendo and irrelevant comment.

I have contributed what I can to help anyone who can follow instructions and wishes to make decisions as to how they wish to perform (and would emphasise that the fact that Cosh specifically instructed "pass LEFT shoulders in reels" is the identifying instruction which identifies Marie's Wedding), so will now sign off.

(16 Nov '11, 05:49) anguka

Well, you said in your original answer that »copies of this dance [Mairi's Divorce] have been sold at Summer School by the RSCDS«. I don't think it marks the height of creativity to change one little detail of a dance to make a new dance, but that's my personal opinion.

Actually I think we agree more than we disagree. I do prefer the LS pass in Mairi's Wedding, and I do agree that dances should be taught as per the original instructions. Our disagreement seems to be that I don't think we should (or even can) control what happens on the social dance floor (shoulder-wise, anyway) and you do.

(16 Nov '11, 08:33) anselm ♦♦
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Asked: 31 Oct '11, 15:56

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Last updated: 16 Nov '11, 08:35

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