Dance Types and Music

The types of dance and the music are intimately linked, and therefore it is sensible to describe both together.  This is just a brief introduction and we suggest using the links to the Royal Scottish Dance Society (RSCDS) online resources for further information, including samples of music of each type.

Most of the dances fall into three categories:

  • Jigs - these are lively dances performed to spritely 6/8 compound time music.  The rhythm is slightly uneven, as in a child's skipping step, but it is one that most people find extremely natural to dance to. 
  • Reels - these are dances in 4/4 time with an even rhythm and a similar tempo (bars & steps/minute) to jigs.
  • Strathspeys - these are unique to Scottish traditional dance, are in slow 4/4 time (approximately half the tempo of reels), and are elegant and graceful.  In a programme of dances they provided a welcome breather from the quicker jigs and reels.

These types form the majority of the dances at our classes and dance evenings, but waltzes (3/4 time) and marches (2/2 & 4/4 time) are also often included in ceilidhs and parties.

Although Scottish Country Dancing is based on the social and ballroom dancing of Scotland during the 18th and 19th century, it is very much a living tradition with continuing developments in dances, dance figures and music.  Each dance has its own preferred lead tune (often composed for it), but dance bands put together a selection of alternative tunes that are played in a set for that dance.  A typical dance of 32 bars for four couples, each dancing twice from the lead position, requires 8x32 bars of music.  Bands will play the lead tune and up to 7 alternative tunes to provide variety and interest to each dance.

For more information on the music and dance types, please visit the RSCDS website using the link below.

RSCDS resource - Scottish music & how it fits the dance