The Summer Schools run at St Andrews by the RSCDS have been going for over 50 years. They attract dancers from all over the world, many of whom return year after year. So they must be doing something right! Now, I may mention a few niggles that I encountered, but the evidence is clear that these are a successful venture, likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
This was my second time at summer school. Last year I was with a whole bunch of fellow dancers from NI, and it was great to be part of a big group, who all knew their way around. This year I enjoyed a bit more independence, and didn’t feel I had to do something just because it was the tradition. It was a lot quieter, and less lively, but that had its own attractions. I do need a bit of space and peace every now and again!
When booking my flights, I’d found that Glasgow was about half the price of Edinburgh, but it was only when I went to research actual transport options after I had booked my flights that I discovered I had very few options at the times I was travelling on a Sunday. But it was feasible, though there was little margin for error. If I missed one bus, I was stuck.
On the day I left, my super-smart phone alerted me that there was a one hour delay to my flight. I had a minor panic about my onward journey – my original plans had been to catch the X24 which goes directly from Glasgow to St A, and the bus leaving at 17.40 would have me there shortly after 20.00. I did a bit of googling and decided that hiring a car at £80 or taking a taxi for £160 were not really value for money options. There was a later bus at 18.40, and the difference between arriving at 9 pm rather than 8 pm was, frankly, minimal.
At Belfast International I noticed there was an Easyjet flight to Edinburgh leaving at 15.30, and enquired if I could transfer to that. But no, since it was scheduled to depart 5 minutes AFTER my flight, a transfer wasn’t permissible. As it turned out, my flight managed to make up a bit of lost time, only took off 30 mins late, was touching down 20 minutes after that, and most importantly, the luggage was very quickly on the carousel. I was out by the 500 shuttle bus rank at 16.45, (return fare £9), and at Buchanan Street bus depot with plenty of time to spare before catching the 17.40 X24 as planned (£11.10 single). There were plenty of comfy seats, and a few stops along the way, but I had some crisps and chocolate and a kindle, and overall the 2 1/2 hour journey was very pleasant.
University Hall is very close to the bus station, and at least this route avoids any of the tedious and wind-blasted hanging about at Leuchars junction. A 10 minute walk took me to the halls of residence, and I got to the evening reception in time for a glass of wine, the end of the introductory remarks, and some dancing.
On Monday morning I made my way to the communal kitchen, filled a kettle and switched it on, only to be told off for not just boiling enough water for one cup, as everyone would want freshly boiled water. My logic was that there would be a whole raft of people wanting their morning caffeine fix, and anyway, tea made with a teabag in a cardboard cup with plastic milk from a jigger was hardly going to worry about the freshly boiledness of the water.
There were a LOT of attendees in this, Week 2. It was the designated young persons week, so there were a few family groups, and it was also the musicians course, so the ranks of dancers were supplemented by a dozen or more music students. The result of this was queues. For everything. The queue for meals stretched out the dining room door and down the stairs. The halls for dancing were jam packed, and some of the classes had as many as 50 dancers in them. As there were large contingents of French, Hong Kong Chinese and others not speaking English as a first language, these large classes were rather noisy, with translation and clarifications taking place in small pockets.
I was doing the Dance Achievement Award (DAA). I had assumed that this would be an afternoon activity, but when I checked the class lists I found that it had a dedicated morning session all to itself, and there were a grand total of 7 of us. Our teacher was Elma, own of my own class teachers, and our musician was Frank, who kept us regaled with amusing anecdotes and comments. A local dancer (and former Chairman no less) joined us to complete the set to 8 dancers. We were a cosmopolitan bunch – I was representing Belfast branch, Margaret and Bill came from near Inverness, Matthew hailed from Bath, and the remaining 3 were from Claudine from France, Monika from Vienna and Polly from Hong Kong.
Our classes were held in the Girl Guide Hall. This was a good 20 minute walk from the halls of residence, but I find a brisk stroll in the morning is healthy, and blows away any cobwebs. We took our morning coffee around the corner in Holy Trinity, and soaked up a few rays of sunshine when we could.
I’d first seen step dancing demonstrated at last year’s Thursday night ball, and I was entranced by its elegance and delicacy. I’d hoped my ballet training would make it accessible for me, and so I signed up for the optional afternoon sessions, which took place in the lower hall of Victory Memorial. This has quite a squeaky floor, even though we tried it in different directions to see which was best. The basic steps were OK, but the more complicated trebles and shuffles were rather tricksy, and reminded me a bit of times steps in tap dancing. I know I could do them, if I had the time to repeat them about a hundred times. As it turned out, I wasn’t able to attend any of the other afternoon step classes, so that will have to wait for another year.
Monday night was our first visit to the Younger Hall, which is a lovely space to dance in. The big numbers meant that there was little room for manoeuvre, and any time that casting outside the set was called for, the other dancers had to breathe in to make some space. I did miss there being a large contingent of familiar faces when looking for a partner, but a lovely lady called Margaret, who I later discovered was in charge of International Branch, took me under her wing, and kept me right during Old Nick’s Lumber Room, which had crashed and burned spectacularly the last time I’d done it.
Tuesday afternoon was when the Unit 3 teaching candidates were running through their paces, and I’d signed up to be a volunteer for this. As I’m considering going for teaching certification myself, this was a really useful insight into what is expected of them. There was a certain “script” that each formation and step being taught followed. We were supposed to be needed from 2-4, but as there were so many candidates they asked if we could stay to 4.30. Unfortunately, the shop closes PROMPTLY at 4.30, and I was just too late to hand in the branch order. They took pity on me, however, and agreed that I could submit it the next day.
In the evening, I went to the local St Andrews branch dance, which was taking place in the Boys Brigade Hall. This was a bit more relaxed and informal, and Margaret even gave me a lift in her car.
On Wednesday afternoon I’d hoped to get back to step class, but when we learned that our assessment would be taking place on Thursday afternoon, the others wanted to use that time to go over the dances, and that did seem to be a more beneficial use of resources. Some of my intrepid classmates managed to source a location (the party room), an additional dancer to make up the set, and a very talented musician in the shape of Michael. We even persuaded Elma to come along and supervise. My feet were starting to ache at the end of this, and I was glad I had brought with me many potions and lotions to rub into them. Lemony Flutter from Lush was a godsend. Others in the class were making good use of Oil of Arnica.
There was social dancing in the Common Room that night, and some people found the programme a bit tricky. One dance in particular, Tiptoe and Sway, I couldn’t get the hang of at all, especially without a walk-through. But I did enjoy doing Swiss Lassie with Monika – it’s a favourite of some of my fellow Belfast branch dancers, and one I’d done a few times before. Monika was now officially going to be my partner during the assessment, so it was useful to get more practice dancing as a couple.
Thursday was the day of the assessment, and we were all a little nervous. We’d decided the day before that the examiners wouldn’t want to sit with their backs to the door, so we’d had to swap around the “top of the room”. Most of Thursday morning was spent aligning the tables and chairs for them to sit at, and then working out where the sets should start and finish, by means of lining up with fire extinguishers and bins, counting tiles on the floor, and panels in the roof. I think perhaps that next year I shall make sure to pack a divining rod and a tape measure!
During the assessment I know I could have danced better – I didn’t phrase my Rondel terribly well, and I was so busy concentrating on keeping my thumbs down that I nearly went into a pousette instead of an allemande! But there were no big disasters.
I managed to make it just in time to the talk on using social media. I was instrumental in setting up the Belfast branch Facebook page, and am a reasonably competent Twitterer (Tweetheart?). There were some useful tips, such as bearing in mind what time it is in the States when making postings. But I was getting frustrated by the actualities: the reception in St Andrews is patchy, and I kept trying to tweet and facebook pictures with the summeschool2015 hashtag, but being unable to upload them. My other quibble was that the hashtag was not unique, as there are summer schools happening in all sorts disciplines and locations!
On Thursday evenings there is another dance in the Younger Hall. But you need to get a ticket. I’d completely missed this fact, and by the time I realised it, they were sold out. At least, that’s what I heard, though someone else told me that there were in fact some available. It does seem a bit daft – why can we dance in this venue on Monday and Saturday night, but need a ticket for Thursdays? Forking out another tenner on top of the already pricey fee for the week seems unnecessary and mean. There are various demonstration teams performing at this event, including Step and Highland. I can’t put my finger on why I feel a bit uncomfortable about dancers being in more than one dem team – of course it’s right and proper that the best dancers are used to show off their skills, but I’d like to think everyone got a fair chance. It must make scheduling rehearsal times a nightmare.
Anyway. I hadn’t got a ticket and so I resigned myself to a more relaxed evening’s dancing in the Common Room. This turned out to be most enjoyable – all the dances were walked through, including that pesky Tiptoe and Sway (I think I’ve got it now!), there was room to manoeuvre, and I was dancing with a different bunch of people than I normally would. As an added bonus to round the evening off, I went outside and in the crystal clear skies I got to see the most glorious diamond-bright pass of the Space Station. I waved them night-night and went to bed in good form.
On Friday morning our class could relax a bit more, swap around partners, and we got to try some of the dances out of the new book. Between Friday and Saturday I’d done Ruby Rant, Neil M Grant, Miss Eleanor, Rundumadum, and First Rain of Spring. Frank introduced us to “smeddum” a Scottish word meaning urge or drive, and we listened and danced to older strathspey tunes compared with the newer more lyrical airs. We were saying goodbye to Irene, so I gave out present to her, Elma and Frank, including some cards where everyone had written some funny memories and quotes, and even some illustrations.
Friday night was the ceilidh. I’d toyed with the idea of writing one of me pomes, especially since “Week 2” rhymes with “queue”, but decided I’d rather keep schtum in case anyone thought I was criticising. The entertainment was fun, I shared some sweeties with my classmates and new friends, and led a party of interested ones in another ISS sighting, before going to a lively party hosted by Chester branch.
Saturday morning means parkrun, and I’d persuaded Claudine’s husband to give me a lift up the road to Craigtoun. It was a bright sunny day, and I managed to run the course (which seems to be all uphill!) a minute faster than last year, so I got a very welcome and rare PB.
After the last session of our class, where I was nearly in tears saying goodbye, we’ve all become such good friends, I took a relaxed walk through the town. One of my favourite things to do in a seaside resort is find the best ice-cream shop, try an unusual flavour and eat it while looking out to sea. The queue outside Janetta’s stretched down the street, but I had time to wait in it. I was almost deafened by an extremely loud family behind me, I had to put my fingers in my ears to try to turn the volume down. My cinnamon-walnut and chocolate peanut butter combination was delicious, well worth the wait, and I wandered down to East Strand to enjoy the view.
I’d missed the daily news updates given at the first session of the morning, so I didn’t find out till the next morning that there was a garden party with cake. Oh well, serve me right for going running instead.
Saturday evening was the last dancing in Younger Hall. I wore my formal tartan skirt that I’d bought last year here at summer school, and everyone was looking their very best. The programme had been well designed, and we’d done all of the dances at some stage throughout the week, so a quick recap was all that was required. Dancing which such a group of experienced dancers is always a real pleasure, and we were even more rewarded by having a 13 piece band from the musicians course on stage. The atmosphere was electric, with dancers showing their appreciation for each dance by drumming their feet on the wooden floor.
We reprised many of the dances with a “once and to the bottom”, and I thought we’ll never get through the whole programme if we keep this up! But we did. My classmates each sought each other out, and we pencilled in dances that we really wanted to do together. I booked Monika for my branch’s theme tune, City of Belfast, a beautiful dance devised by Lucy Mulholland, and one which I’ve done many many times. The music was excellent, and I almost cried when I identified the strains of Callum’s Road, a tune that means a great deal to me, and one to which I’m devising a dance myself.
There was a light mizzle outside, so no space station sightings this evening. Luke, a friend who was in my class last year, arrived as he was doing Week 3, and although he wasn’t allowed to dance, we did get a catch up over a drink.
Sunday morning was a reasonably early start. I’d done most of my packing the day before, and after bidding farewell to friends in the dining room, I walked the short distance back to the bus station. This was the journey that had some crucial connections, and the first leg was the 99 Tay service bus to Dundee. This great service goes every 30 minutes, and does a round-the-toon pick up journey before heading north to the Taybridge. So it’s wise to double check whether it’s the 99 A, B, C or D that you’re boarding! A single fare was £4.80, and I sat beside another of the Lyon contingent, who was embarking on a very long and punctuated journey by train, bus and lift back home. This service stops at Leuchars junction, so it is popular with any visitors using the train. It takes half an hour to get to Dundee, which was looking very fine in the Sunday morning light. My bus to Glasgow was due to depart at 10.05, but I felt the 9.30 service from St A didn’t leave me enough of a window should there be delays due to roadworks, or passengers querying the fare, or the wrong kind of mist. So the 9 o’clock bus I’d caught gave me time to get a cup of tea and local delicacy, a Tunnocks teacake in the little café. (As it turned out, the next St A bus WAS late, and arrived with less than a minute before the Glasgow bus departed).
The M9 bus back to Buchanan depot cost £17.10, and took 1 hour 40 minutes. There’s a much better sense of geography when travelling by bus – you get to see place names at junctions and intersections, as well as distance boards so you know how far away you are.
I made it with no problems onto the 500 shuttle, and arrived at Glasgow airport just as the bag drop desk opened. There was no queue, the security check was short and simple, and I was soon enjoying a Spaghetti Oceana in Frankie & Bennys, which has a lovely view out onto the runway. The boarding process is a necessary evil. It’s good to get the squealing kids out of the way and boarded first, but people seem to like queuing for as long as possible. Me, I prefer to stay seated for as long as possible, especially if there’s assigned seating. I’ve found that using a squishy backpack as my hand luggage is the best option, as it can be shoved under the seat in front, without any elbowing for space in the overhead lockers. It’s the same at the other end, I obey all instruction on seat belts and mobile phones, but I don’t see the point in getting out of my seat and crowding the aisle before the doors have been opened. Baggage reclaim was pretty smooth too, and the only niggly problems were once I’d got outside to meet my husband in the drop-off and pick-up zone. This is always a bit fraught, it’s a badly designed space with a zebra crossing going through the middle of it, and cars wanting to stop in the first available space. Failing that they’ll just stop on double yellow lines or in the middle of the zone. And then there’s always a queue while drivers fish out a pound coin to be released from this hell pit.
But really, it’s a minor inconvenience. Though my husband will be reluctant to be my taxi service at this particular airport in future!
Post-script: We all passed, with flying colours!
Filed under: Dance, travel | Tagged: RSCDS, scottish dancing, St Andrews | Leave a comment »