Too clever for the 'Gay Gordons';Jotter;Back Paige

8th January 1999 at 00:00
A SECONDARY school in Ayshire has replaced "Gay" with "Merry" in the name of the old-time partner dance named after the well-known north-east of Scotland regiment, the Gordon Highlanders. How sad.

When I taught social dancing as part of the physical education curriculum I always made a point of emphasising the adjective when introducing this particular dance and, when the tittering had subsided, I would make the point that the word had formerly meant something entirely different from its modern usage. You can see that I had taken to heart the school's "language across the curriculum" policy.

In fact, I could, and sometimes did, make an intra-curricular meal of it. As well as the former meaning of "gay" (English), I could name the regiment and its fame (history), where it came from (geography), how the Duchess of Gordon would entice recruits to take the Queen's shilling with a kiss (economics and sex education). The one thing I would never do was name the regimental march of the Gordons, "The Cock o' The North." That would have been totally misconstrued by my charges.

Social dancing was always one of my favourite activities. For one thing, we didn't have to assess it. We taught it for its inherent and considerable enjoyment. Not that we were ever anything less than rigorous and professional in our approach.

Another reason was that we didn't have the usual PE kit issues to deal with before the lesson. ("Please excuse Joseph for not bringing his shorts, as the dog ate them last night. And Oblige"). Neither was injury or illness an excuse. The rule was, if you can walk, you can dance. This meant that the lesson could often start within five minutes of the class arriving, unheard of in other activities. What joy!

There was also the advantage that at the end of the block of dance there was usually a "product" in the form of a school dance or ceilidh, and the longer-term benefit of being able to perform the dances outside school. I remember taking a group of boys and girls from Cranhill to one of the summer school camps organised by the then Glasgow Corporation in Aberdeen. In Union Terrace Gardens we came across a Scottish country dance band giving it laldy, but with no takers, since most of the audience were tourists and didn't know the dances.

This was the era of the Bay City Rollers and most of our kids had the full gear; the wide tartan-striped jeans, the Simon shirt, the Doc Martens. Before you could say "Robbie Shepherd" they had taken over the dance floor, and there was a tear in my eye as they went through their well-taught repertoire to the amazement and obvious delight of the onlookers.

As with every other activity, dancing produced its lighter moments. On one occasion I noticed that one couple would not hold hands. This was sometimes a difficulty initially and some of the kids would pull the cuffs of their shirts over their hands to avoid making physical contact. We got over that problem by telling them to roll their sleeves up.

We had, I thought, passed that stage, so I was a bit surprised at this reluctance to join up. When I tried to get the couple to dance properly, the girl announced loudly, "Sir, he's pickin' his nose and wipin' it on my arm." Knowing her partner, I believed her.

As a firm believer in the "product" approach, I always tried to provide the opportunity for the kids to perform their new skills in a suitable social context. In dancing this meant organising an end-of-term function, held in school time and with free entry. At first we called it a Disco, though we also did ceilidh dances. Then we created our own word, "Dansco", to reflect the fact that we incorporated modern and traditional forms, and latterly, by public demand, it became, quite simply and accurately, "The Christmas Ceilidh".

The names of the dances were announced prior to the music starting, for obvious reasons. When it was the turn of "The Gay Gordons", no one batted an eyelid, no one tittered, they just danced. So my advice to the Ayrshire school and to anyone else considering following their example is, don't try to be too clever, or politically correct, if that was the intention. Call the dance by its proper name. If it can be done in my former Barmulloch, it can be done anywhere, including Kilmarnock.

Anyway I have since read that the "gay" in the title has nothing to do with "merry", but is in fact a form of "gey" meaning something like "excellent". What a gey note on which to finish.

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