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The Reel Thing
Text Dominic Esler Photos Oleg Migachev

cotland has experienced a growing interest in traditional forms of dancing over the last two decades, a surge that has been mirrored abroad amongst both expatriate and local communities. There are two main types of Scottish dancing: ceilidh and Scottish country. Both types are easy to pick up, fairly energetic, and attract people of all ages. Ceilidhs (the Scots Gaelic term for a social dance, pronounced KAY-lee) are held frequently across Scotland at events such as school parties, university balls, and weddings. Scottish country dancing, although connected to ceilidh dancing, is distinguished by its greater complexity and formality. It is usually conducted in formations known as “sets,” lines of three or four couples facing each other. There are several steps that reappear frequently, making it increasingly easy to pick up new dances.

Scottish country dancing is also strictly regulated by the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (RSCDS) based in Edinburgh, which has over 20,000 members around the world. The RSCDS provides official recognition to new branches, supervises a five-unit teacher training program, and organises several annual residential dance schools across Scotland, the largest of which takes place every summer in St Andrews.

The history of Scottish country dancing in Moscow dates back to 1993, when the St. Andrews Society of Moscow was set up by several Scottish expats. The wife of one of the founders, Irene Mackie, began organising dance classes – although few Russians took part at this time. After the Mackies left Russia in 1997, teaching duties were taken up by Russians and local members quickly became the majority. In 2001 these enthusiasts were visited by a group of professionals from Scotland, who demonstrated the level needed to properly master the dances. As a result of this experience the group’s then-leader, Catherine Finogenova, attended the St. Andrews summer school several times, eventually passing all five teaching exams.

The Moscow School of Scottish Dancing received official RSCDS recognition in 2005, and is now comprised of around thirty members, a number of whom participate in a demonstration group that performs at corporate functions as well as the various annual St. Andrews Society events, including the Burns Night supper (January) and the St. Andrews Ball (December). Meanwhile, interest in Scottish dancing is gradually spreading across Russia: there are now separate organisations in Krasnodar and St. Petersburg.

There aren’t many places in this city where you can regularly meet men in kilts. Or where Russians and foreigners can dance and socialise at the same time. Fortunately, the Moscow School of Scottish Dancing offers the opportunity to do all of these things.

The group is currently managed by two young Muscovites, both of whom have passed the first three teaching units and are thus “preliminarily certified” teachers. Olga Ivanova, principal consultant at recruiting agency Antal International, discovered dancing after becoming interested in Scotland during a school trip, going on to study an MBA at St. Andrews University in 2006. Government scientist and Emergency Rescue Service volunteer Misha Smagin came by another route, after his karate teacher encouraged him to take up some kind of dancing to get his legs more limber. Seven years later the karate has gone but Misha is still dancing.

As the dancers are almost entirely Russian, the classes are usually conducted in that language. But this shouldn’t put foreigners off: all of the teachers speak English and the dance steps themselves are called by their original English terms. English teacher Lisa Birchall has been attending since the start of the year. Lisa joined the group after spotting an ad for it, having taken part in ceilidhs while studying at Durham University: “I would definitely recommend it for other expats who want to meet Russians in a friendly and informal environment.” Classes are held three times a week, and once a month there is a social so that all of the hard work can be put into practice.

Olga and Misha will be returning to St. Andrews this summer to take their final two teaching exams, with a group of around ten joining them. The summer school, which is held during the last two weeks of July and the first two of August, hosts several hundred people at any one time, with participants coming from all over the world. Besides being great fun, the trip to Scotland also fulfils a very practical purpose: sporrans and skean dhus aren’t that easy to find in Russia.

Classes cost 200 rubles, take place three times a week: 20:00-22:00 on Wednesdays and Thursdays (advanced level), M: Frunzenskaya; and 11:00-13:00 on Sundays at Kitay Gorod. It’s necessary to email in advance: For more information (in Russian) visit the website Information on the Krasnodar group (with limited English translation) can be found at

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