Linguistics professor leads Scottish dance class

Sounds of bagpipes and lightly tapping feet echo throughout the large marble rotunda in the Mathematics building. Hours earlier the James A. Yorke Rotunda was filled with students bustling to class, but on Wednesday nights linguistics Professor Howard Lasnik teaches Scottish country dance to a small class.

Lasnik, who instructs graduate level linguistics courses at the University of Maryland, originally helped teach the class in the spring of 2008. The class came together after a group of linguistics students journeyed to Greenbelt for a weekly dance class. Previously, there were other university employees who helped with instruction.

“I do all the teaching on my own now,” said Lasnik before the class.

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The class focuses specifically on the country style of Scottish dance, which is more social than competitive or performance based. Kevin Mei, a junior geology major, has been attending the class for two years.

“What’s great is that it’s danced worldwide, and the language of the dance is English, so you could really learn it anywhere,” said Mei.

The class is not only open to students, but also College Park residents. Barbara and Richard Valentic, two city residents, heard about the class from an advertisement in the city. Now Richard dons the same bright yellow shirt as Lasnik which reads, “Fear the kilt” across the front.

When asked why they chose to come to the class, Richard said, “It’s fun. It’s good exercise,” and also cited his Scottish heritage.

Lasnik spends the hour and a half slowly choreographing and directing the dance step by step, before playing the music and projecting loudly over it, counting out the steps. He joins in too.

“This is my 50th year dancing,” said Lasnik to students at the beginning of the class.  Lasnik described his passion as coming from the admiration for the patterns and the music of the dance.

“There’s so much technique involved, you don’t need to be good at free dancing. If you can follow the rules you can do it.”  

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Lasnik explained that all of the many Scottish country dances go as far back as the 18th century, and were all collected by the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. The RSCDC began to publish books and train teachers, causing the dance to spread internationally.

“There are thousands of dance groups in Japan, for example,” said Lasnik.

“You name it, there’s a chapter there,” added Mei.

Lasnik leads the class every Wednesday in the Mathematics building rotunda from 7-8:30 p.m., passionately describing the history of Scottish country dance and proudly displaying his “Fear the kilt” shirt.

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