In 1978, a group of ex-patriate Scots living in New York decided to organize a party to teach reels to their American friends. The combination of a piper, a small band, potluck dinner together with Scottish country dancing generated an enthusiastic response and the event became an annual affair.
Although most of the original founders of the Ball have moved away, many of the traditions they established have been retained. Reeling practices are held for several evenings and on the day of the ball to provide newcomers with instruction as well as an opportunity to meet other Ball-goers. On the night of the Ball, the guests enter the party to the welcoming sounds of bagpipe music. During the cocktail hour, prospective reelers enjoy a whisky tasting as they sign each other’s dance cards.
The dance cards are filled with standards of Scottish country dancing: The Dashing White Sergeant, the Eightsome Reel, The Gay Gordons, and the Reel of the 51st Division are danced prior to dinner. Afterwards, we continue with the Hamilton House, the Duke of Perth and the Inverness Country Dance. The Gallop and singing of Auld Lang Syne conclude the evening.
Over the years, we have been fortunate enough to join forces with some extraordinary individuals who have helped to make the Scottish Ball a uniquely charming experience. Abby Newton is the leader of Celtic Crossing, the band that provides the wonderful music (and many encores) for the reels. Wight Fox Food, headed by Jane McQueen-Mason, has created many memorable dinners for us; having inspired more than a few hesitant guests to taste haggis. And our piper, Mick Burgess, is just as accomplished at playing the bagpipes as he is at reeling.
Although the Scottish Ball has been held in several venues around New York (the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society and the Synod House at St. John the Divine were two of the previous locations), we have returned to dance in the ballroom at the Abigail Adams Smith House, also known as the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden. The main building was constructed in 1799 as a carriage house for a 23-acre estate, which was once owned by Colonel William Stephens Smith and his wife Abigail Adams Smith, the daughter of John Adams.
Many of the attendees of the Scottish Ball are from New York or the United Kingdom, sharing a common interest in Scotland either through their ancestry or friends. However, the Scottish Ball is not limited to those of Celtic descent; we welcome all who enjoy an evening of music, dance, good food and whisky.