Two dozen Red Thistle Scottish dancers were piped down the aisle from the back of the Louis B. Mayer Theatre at Santa Clara University and onto the stage April 22. Led by Stephen Thomforde on the bagpipe, the men wore traditional plaid kilts and the women wore long, full-skirted Victorian dresses for the opening Victorian-era Scottish dances of Dancing Feet 2017.
Organized by the Red Thistle Dancers, the two-hour, multi-cultural dance extravaganza with live music featured Bay Area dance groups performing ethnic dances from Scotland, Bulgaria, Mexico, Spain and the countries along the historical Silk Road linking China with Europe. The combination of fast-footed dances to fiddle, harp, piano, bodhran and bagpipes and the colorful, festive folk costumes captivated the audience.
The line dances of the Antika Bulgaria Folk Dance Ensemble and Cultural Club, led by founder and artistic director Tanya Kostova, wound swiftly back and forth across the stage. Catch the Bulgarian dancers and folk music again at Bulgarian Fest 2017 in the Bay Area May 19 – 22: www.antikabulgaria.com.
Next came the San Jose School of Highland Dance (www.sanjosehighlanddance.com). Their performance included the “Ghillie Callum Sword Dance” with dancers stepping rapidly in and out of swords crossed on the stage floor. The quiet sounds of their soft shoes contrasted with the stomping sounds of dramatic flamenco dancing.
Professional dancers Kerensa DeMars and Melissa Cruz represented the San Francisco Flamenco Dance Company (www.sanfranciscoflamenco.com). They performed sultry styles of flamenco called “caña” and “farruca,” originally danced only by men.
Los Lupeños de San José (www.loslupenos.org), one of California’s earliest Mexican folk dance companies, performed dances from the Mexican states of Veracruz and Colima. The women wore skirts made of many yards of flowing fabric that enhanced the visual beauty of their dances.
The House of Inanna Belly Dancers (www.inannaraqs.com), performing the American tribal style belly dance, wore elaborate costumes. They enhanced their unscripted performances with real swords and baskets on their heads.
The Red Thistle Dancers performed the two basic kinds of Scottish dancing. The older, Highland dances focused on the skill and grace of the individual performer. The strathspeys, reels and jigs of country ballroom dancing, dating from the 17th century, were performed by pairs and sets of dancers, as in square dancing.
“The Red Thistle mission is to promote Scottish culture and traditions through dance. But why not bring in other ethnic dances and share?” said concert director John Kelly, who co-founded the Red Thistle Dance performance group in 1973 with his wife, artistic director Jennifer Kelly. “You learn from other people’s dances. Lots of new dances are choreographed all the time. Dance is alive!”
“It impressed me–all the active dance groups representing all these different cultures in the immediate Bay Area and how accomplished they are,” said audience member Janice Lenske from Saratoga.
“The show was fabulous–fabulous dancing, costumes, music, timing, everything. It was worth flying over three thousand miles for,” said Dottie Peters from New Hampshire, who had flown in on the day of the performance to see her prospective son-in-law, Thomforde, play the bagpipes and dance. “I felt like I wanted to get up and dance with them.”
Peters’ daughter, Oakland resident Valerie Peters, admitted to taking up Scottish dancing herself because she wanted to go on a date with Thomforde, now her fiancé.
For information about the nonprofit Red Thistle Dancers, visit www.redthistledancers.org. Visit the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society website for information on Scottish country dance classes: www.rscds-sf.org.