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Dancing still fit and healthy at 70

I reached St Andrews by bus in September 1965, and struggled up the hill to St Regulus Hall with one suitcase in each hand. There were no wheelies in those days. I had two objectives: Political Economy, and Scottish Country Dancing.

The Celtic Society ran classes every Tuesday in the Old Union Building, and that was where I made my first friends. Morag was the president, and Rhona was the dance teacher. St Andrews University was the holder of the inter-universities Scottish Dance Challenge Cup, so I knew I was in the right place. Everybody, I reasoned, would know how to dance.

The Freshers’ Ball in Younger Hall had two bands: a loud one (too loud for my delicate ears) blaring pop music, and a quiet one playing dance music in one of the side rooms. I was thrilled when the dance band announced an Eightsome Reel. Most of my dancing had been in family parties (my mother was a dance teacher, and every party included dancing) or in Africa, where my dad was a doctor with the World Health Organisation. In Africa we danced in beery club houses which also offered tennis, golf, darts, snooker, ping pong and British films projected onto large outdoor screens built of concrete.

My first Eightsome in St Andrews was a disappointment. As our set began to dance, I realized that I was the only person who actually knew the Eightsome. So I called instructions, just as I did to my cousins at a family party.

The Celtic Society, on the other hand, was wonderful. We always had two or three sets of good dancers, and Rhona Murray was our excellent teacher. I became a Life Member of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, and signed up my brother Rory for his Christmas present. They stopped life memberships soon after, so Rory may be the youngest living lifer in RSCDS, one of the world’s great international friendship societies. You can dance in Moscow, in Paris, in Tokyo, in Canberra …. When my wife took a position in Richmond, Virginia, the only person I knew when on arrival was the secretary of the local RSCDS group.

How to tell my grandchildren about the wonders of dancing? I decided to write them a book. Once I got going, I realized that other people’s grandchildren also needed to learn about our culture, our music and the importance of dance for health and happiness. In St Andrews – in my compulsory Moral Philosophy class (how excellent that turned out to be!) – I discovered David Hume’s belief that passion drives reason, and John Stuart Mill promoting “The Greatest Happiness of the Greatest Number” which has been my guiding principle throughout life.

My book title “I Dance Therefore I Am” is a passionate response from the Scottish Enlightenment (Hume) to the French Enlightenment (Descartes). Happiness requires laughter and love, which fill this book. Beautiful women dancers are serenaded in every chapter, together with Beautiful Scotland. Robert Burns and William MacGonagall, jokes, Limericks, ghost stories from St Andrews and a splash of Scottish history ensure that my grandchildren and yours will laugh, and learn.

Robin Poulton graduated in 1969 (Political Economy and Medieval History) and has his own blog

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