Reviews of Tom Flett's dance books

Thomas Flett, in addition to publishing many mathematics papers and books, also wrote, in collaboration with his wife Joan F Flett, scholarly books on dance, particularly on Scottish dance. They spent over twenty years studying the literature and oral history of the social and solo dances of Scotland and the North West of England. They published three books, the first of these being published during Thomas Flett's lifetime but the remaining two were published by Joan Flett after her husband's death. We present some reviews and publisher's descriptions below.


  1. Traditional Dancing in Scotland (1964), by J F Flett and T M Flett.

    1.1. Review by: Patrick Shuldham-Shaw.
    Journal of the International Folk Music Council 17 (1) (1965), 32-33.

    This book, the result of an enormous amount of field work and research, gives a remarkably clear picture of social dancing all over Scotland during the years prior to the first World War, going back as far as living memory can recall. The authors realize the importance of the social background of the dances and the earlier chapters on how the dances were taught and the occasions and places at which they were danced are full of interest, particularly as they contain many verbal descriptions by some of the old people whom the authors met. Almost everywhere the social occasion was the thing that mattered and even the dancing masters' classes were really just the necessary preliminary leading up to the final ball. ... The amount of work that has gone into producing this book is enormous and can to some extent be gauged by the long list of sources given at the end. Throughout the book, sources are given for almost every fact claimed. Few books on the dance contain so much authenticated fact and so little guesswork and theory, thus making this one of the most important books of its kind to have appeared for some time.

    1.2. Review by: Douglas Kennedy.
    Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society 9 (5) (1964), 284.

    It is not often that a study of dancing receives such careful methodical and sympathetic investigation as has been given to the traditional dances in Scotland by Dr and Mrs Flett. They ... have been for long active exponents of Scottish Country dances, always fastidious in their presentations and often critical of the general trends in the contemporary revivals of country dancing, both in Scotland and in England. [They] bring to their study a sharper scrutiny than might have been given by a less experienced investigator. On the assumption that any detail of substance may now or subsequently throw more light on the style and spirit of performance, they have omitted nothing or almost nothing from their descriptions and findings. If this makes their book less readable than it might have been, it establishes it as a reference book that will be of value for all time and to all those who are interested in traditional dancing, and of value too to students of Scottish social history.

  2. Traditional Dancing in Scotland (paperback edition) (1985), by J F Flett and T M Flett.

    2.1. Review by: Alan V Murray.
    Jahrbuch für Volksliedforschung 33 (1988), 174-176.

    The Fletts' study, a new paperback edition of a work which first appeared in 1964, remains to date the only full-length scholarly investigation of traditional Scottish dancing in the pre-World War One period before the advent of jazz and the new dances which arrived in its wake. It is based on the evidence of some 200 informants from all over Scotland, most of them sometime dancing masters ("dancies"), their former pupils or members of their families, the majority of whom were born before 1890

  3. Traditional Step-Dancing in Lakeland (1979), by J F Flett and T M Flett.

    3.1. From the publisher:

    This is a fascinating book for both dance enthusiasts and local history enthusiasts in the lake district. It contains many historical photographs, plenty of historical information about the introduction of dance styles into Lakeland in the 19th century, and, most importantly, detailed instructions and diagrams showing how to perform many traditional dances.

  4. Traditional Step-Dancing in Scotland (1996), by J F Flett and T M Flett.

    4.1. From the publisher:

    The popular view of Scottish solo step-dances has always been the Sword Dance and the Highland Fling seen at Highland Games. In the early 1950s, the authors of this work began to question whether there was a greater history and variety to step-dancing in Scotland. Between 1950 and 1967 they travelled all over Scotland in their quest, and this book provides a record of their literary research and collecting. It aims to show: that Highland Games dances are only a small part of a rich heritage; how the once numerous dances were taught by popular dancing masters; and the link to step-dancing in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, a subject covered by the text in an appendix. The book also contains instructions for the step-dances collected from mainland Scotland, the Hebrides and Cape Breton, including clog-dances and dirk dances.


JOC/EFR April 2015

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http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Extras/Flett_dance_books.html