Saturday, September 1, 2012

Highlands In The Desert

The dance was intended to be informal and casual. Shorts were welcome. So were kilts. We couldn't help but make it something more. Once again, We Make History.

I've been a Stewart and a Cameron, but tonight, I'm a Campbell. My kilt announces it in deep hues of green, half-covered by my long linen 1740's weskit, also properly green. I finish it off with a Jacobite shirt, kilt hose and blue bonnet – with the white cockade, of course. If anybody asks what a Campbell is doing wearing a Jacobite bonnet, I can always say I'm a turncoat. If anybody asks why the kilt falls below my knees, I can say I'm honouring THE LORD with my modesty.

I miss Flagstaff this time of year. The green of the late summer and the cool among the pines leaves me wistful. The clans come together outside the great hall in celebration, everyone in tartans and gowns, smiles wide among faces. But now they're dressed up as if we were in the Highlands once again, in their gowns and kilts and bonnets as they enter the small Tucson ballroom.

“Does this go over the left or right shoulder?” a lady asks me as she ponders how to proper tartan sash over an 1800's hoopskirt.

“Any way you choose, my lady,” I respond. “But I usually wear it over the left shoulder.”

Clan Tucson is back. They are unmistakable in their brown and black tartans, honouring their desert heritage.

“We sewed this last night,” one member tells me, showing off his new, properly-pleated desert kilt. I hear several sewing machine needles snapped in the process, but the fruits of the labour are well tailored.

Our dance master, spirited yet casual, calls us to form sets and we are soon are bowing and curtsying to each other without any casual thoughts. We shall be sticking to the spirited reels this evening, accompanied by a virtual orchestra. It seems at least 30 or 40 people are here, and nearly every one is cavorting in merriment.

“In English dance, we glide,” a dancing master once told me, “but in Scottish we fly.” Indeed, many of the young lads and lasses are flying as they chasse and whirl around. Some – like your humble servant – prefer joyous yet elegant affectations, raising our hands and heads high as we turn. Somebody might well accuse us of being English spies.

Such flying requires refueling. The lads and lasses pause between dances to refresh themselves with cookies, tea, and copious cold water before it's time for a mid-diversion diversion. Dance 'em, Danno. In a growing tradition, we transition from the Highlands to Hawaii in a surf-rock version of the famous We Make History Pineapple Dance, with a medley featuring the theme from Hawaii Five-O.

You pass a pineapple to one person besides you, and then chasse off with the other. The rules are simple, but the variations are unlimited. Several people toss to others in line and charge in threes. Some people scamper away. Some lads dare to pass over the lasses and chasse off with each other. (That might be a cause for a duel, but that is another treatise.) But in the end, the person with the pineapple when the music stops wins the fruit of victory and likely a few juice concoctions down the line.

During a waltz, a highland lass generously shows your humble servant a box step. My feet have a hard time learning new things.

“You're doing it!” she cries, even though they still want to two-step at times, still clung to their Texas ways.

Later, she finds me again, hoping I wasn't embarrassed by the dancing lesson.

“No, not at all,” I tell her. It took a long time for me to learn a Scottish skip-change step, I explain, as I take up true Scottish Country Dancing. I show her, skipping on my right and left feet around the hall. She follows my lead.

“There's also a strathspey,” I explain, “which is a slowed-down skip-change with a hop.” I demonstrate: left step, close, left step, hop and swing the right through. Right step, close, right step, close, right step, swing the left through with a hop. My Scottish dancing masters would give me grief because my feet aren't pointing in a “T.” At times, I dance like the only boy in the ballet class. Not my dear lass, who follows after me.

A lad observes at us and wishes to learn it. I seize upon an idea.

“Take hands, and we'll do it together,” I say. The three of us improvise a sort of strathspey minuet across the room, Scottish meeting English... or French.

As the evening progresses, it's obvious. This is the Highland Ball we love, just a little smaller and sandier. That doesn't change our hearts' desires. Why be casual when we can kilt up and celebrate? Not that we disparage anybody who doesn't, but the freedom to be fancy is there for those who want.

Rife with afterglow, we descend upon a pizza parlour up the street late on the Friday evening. Humongous slices of Italian pie satisfy our cravings. With the establishment nearly to ourselves, we zestily dance in the aisles to the rhythms of the disco age. Clan Tucson dances the Breakdown... and then the Can-Can.

We are family, of good times, staying alive to the night fever because we should be dancing, yeah...

And you should be dancing, too. Check out We Make History for more about their Casual Dance Series -- and many other good historical offerings!

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