Susan Morrison: The contact sport of a St Andrews’ street ceilidh

An impromptu Strip the willow
An impromptu Strip the willow
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Earlier this month I went up to St Andrews to host their St Andrews Day which, of course, actually took place on 30 November.

But this is St Andrews, where every day is technically St Andrews day, so they can celebrate whenever they want.

They were having an outdoor ceilidh, so naturally it rained.

Despite the freezing weather and the downpour, out came the crowds, bundled up in parkas, anoraks, hats and scarves.

READ MORE: First Minister and Prime Minister give St Andrew’s Day greetings

Some small children were so wrapped up against the elements they were almost completely spherical.

Most of St Andrews does not come from St Andrews, it would seem. They don’t even come from Scotland. There were many large healthy looking young Americans, and ethereal delicate young women from the East. One, a masters student from Japan, asked me if the Scots did this every Saturday. Oh yes, I said. Twice in Edinburgh.

A serious young man from Iowa had more earnest concerns. The Dashing White Sergeant, he asked, was it a comment on matters racial? No, I assured him. Stand down your potential protest. Hold your fire until the call for the Gay Gordons.

READ MORE: St Andrew’s Day: The history, date and traditions

The ceilidh was a roaring success, and then the Kilrymont Ceilidh Band lined them up in the streets for Strip The Willow.

This is not a dance, it’s a contact sport. The combination of wet street, a dram or two and massively enthusiastic Americans created a potential perfect storm of Scottish Country dancing carnage, a scene that would make the first 20 minutes of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ look like a Disney production. We have all been there.

A squadron of large sporty Yanks gallantly lined up with my masters student from Japan and her friends as their dancing partners.

Every ceilidh seems to have a battle-hardened veteran on hand to highlight the finer points to the youngsters. A grand dame of Scottish country dancing, resplendent in bobble hat and sensible shoes, took in the human Labrador puppies of the American line-up and the delicate girls who faced them.

She leaned over to the over-excitable American boys and said: “Birling your partner is great in Strip The Willow, but always make sure you don’t let them birl above your head. That’s considered a wee bit rude, especially if they fly off.”

Well played, madam. I was worried that Strip The Willow would have been followed by Hunt The Student.