Robert Jacobs of Costa Mesa, 41, likes the flirtatiousness of Scottish country dancing. Apparently it works--he met and wooed his wife, Carolyn Alexandra Jacobs, 23, while enjoying the intricate figures and fancy footwork of this centuries-old dance. They were married in July.
"It's a very flirtatious form of dancing. You're supposed to have lots of eye contact," says Robert Jacobs, looking rather romantic and dashing in an old-fashioned muslin shirt, fancy knee socks and a traditional kilt.
There's nothing staid and somber about Scottish country dancing, which has spread to wherever Scots have settled. The Orange County chapter of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society has more than 60 members, and Monday through Thursday evenings you can always find a class somewhere in the county. (For information on the society's dances, call Dorothy Hodges, (714) 842-7650.)
The dancers slip on their "ghillies"--soft leather shoes similar to ballet shoes--and practice steps and figures from the hundreds of dances that fill the official 35 books of Scottish country dance.
You don't have to be Scottish to join in the fun, though many members are Scots. You don't even have to have a partner because there's usually someone available to dance with.
The figures are complicated and take awhile to learn, but novices are welcome and are cheerfully nudged into place by more experienced dancers. It generally takes one or two years to even begin to master the technique, but the dancing is just part of the fun.
Members of the Orange County group revel in the chance to make new friends. Many have become good friends with dancers from neighboring chapters in San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles and San Diego.
And the Jacobses' marriage is just one of several in Orange County inspired by Scottish country dancing. In fact, the Orange County chapter of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society recently issued a booklet, "The Plighted Troth," which contains special dances written in honor of members' marriages.
"The Plighted Troth" was named for a dance created for Bob Patterson of Tustin, 51, and his wife, Rene Boblette, 36. The two met while dancing and now teach a class for beginning, intermediate and advanced Scottish country dance students Thursday evenings at Edison Community Center in Huntington Beach.
"The McUffda Strathspey" is a dance created for Pete Anderson and his wife, Anne-Line Anderson, of Irvine, and it is done to music with a Scandinavian flavor. The Andersons, both of Norwegian ancestry, met at a Scottish dance in Monterey, and he says "it was love at first sight."
Anderson, who will admit only to "pushing 50" and says his wife is in her "mid-40s," even has a license plate that reads MCUFFDA. Uffda is a Norwegian expression with a meaning considerably stronger than "Oh, heck." The Strathspey is a slow, courtly step featured in many of the dances.
At a recent dance, Anderson showed his mixed allegiance by wearing an outfit that included a kilt and a Viking helmet.
"You have a real time. It's not a sober sort of thing," says Dorothy Craik with a laugh and a charming Scottish accent. Craik, who started dancing in her native Scotland when she was 7, declines to give her age, but fellow members say she is over 80. She says people her age are relegated to the dancing sidelines in Scotland. "They tell ya to set in a corner," she says. But she's delighted that "here everyone joins in."
"You always need classes," says Craik of Garden Grove, who dances weekly. "You have to keep up with the newer dances."
Parts of Scottish country dancing, usually done in sets of four couples, may look familiar. Certain moves are reminiscent of a do-si-do or a "promenade," and the formation of four couples facing each other is similar to the Virginia reel. But Scottish country dancing came first.
Square dancing borrowed many moves from Scottish country dance and some other types of folk dancing, according to Patterson, who first learned Scottish dancing at monthly grange dances as a boy in Riverside.
Scottish country dancing's footwork, however, is different from square dancing because the Scots in the 18th Century began borrowing movements from French ballet.
"And so the French ballet is modified into court dancing, and court dancing then became modified into ballroom dancing in Scotland," Patterson explains, and ballroom dancing became Scottish country dancing.
That accounts for the proper form of country dancing in which dancers are supposed to move lightly on the balls of their feet with toes pointed. However that form isn't required at socials or in class because some people can't manage it.
Scottish country dancing does not have a caller shouting out the steps. However, each dance has a lead tune experienced dancers will recognize. A master of ceremonies may briefly explain what moves a dance includes before the music starts, but it's up to each dancer to know them and keep up.
Scottish country dancing also shares some steps with highland dancing, but without requiring the same lift and elevation. Some dancers are proficient at both forms, and some Scottish country dancers are former highland dancers whose knees no longer can take the punishment of the more demanding dance, Patterson says.
Still, Scottish country dancing is a good aerobic exercise.
Just ask Judy Hess of San Clemente. In six months of attending classes twice a week and socials once a month, Hess, 38, has lost 17 pounds.
"Have you ever seen a jogger smile?" asks Patterson, who is a psychologist. "Well this is a form of exercise where you get to hold hands with people. It's social. You get to communicate . . . watch people smile. They're having fun. They enjoy it."