Over the last few years, they've played Balmoral Castle, entertained thousands of tourists and raised tens of thousands for charity. MARILYN BAKER charts the rise of the Castleton Dancers.
A recent study claimed that Scottish Country Dancing was the best form of exercise for the over-fifties.
It’s aerobic, it exercises the major muscle groups in the arms and legs, and it burns lots of calories.
And it’s not just your physical health that benefits either. It sharpens the brain, raises the spirits, heightens self-esteem and encourages social interaction.
A group of 20 women, living in the wee Highland village of Braemar on Royal Deeside can vouch for that. Of these ladies, 17 are aged from their mid-fifties to their mid-seventies.
The three youngsters in the group – who are in their forties – claim that the ‘oldies’ are an inspiration to them.
The Castleton Dancers formed in January 2006 with a single performance at a local Burns Supper in mind.
The original eight dancers enjoyed the experience so much that they recruited others. Eventually they were asked to perform at a few ceilidhs and parties in the village – and word of them soon spread around the area.
Then an invitation arrived they will never forget arrived – to dance for Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, at Balmoral, on the occasion of her eightieth birthday.
The excitement was tempered by anxiety. Were they good enough? What would Her Majesty expect? What would they wear?
The next few months were filled with dance rehearsals and dress fittings.
The dancers even found time to devise a brand new dance for the occasion – a strathspey called Braemar’s Eightieth Birthday Tribute.
Following that most prestigious performance, the team decided to put their glamorous new outfits to good use by wearing them twice a week, every week, dancing for the tourists who visit Braemar.
Each month they choose a different charity and take a collection from their audience. To date, they’ve raised over £45,000.
The beneficiaries range from the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK to Erskine and the Gurkha Welfare Trust; from Médecins Sans Frontières and the Smile Train to World Horse Welfare and Horseback UK.
They’ve also supported a number of local causes, including the repair of the church clock, the Braemar Scouts and the provision of picnic tables throughout the village.
The group continues to practise and perform all year long – and visitors to Braemar are welcome to join them at their weekly class.
They are proud of the fact that Prince Charles has invited them twice to dance for his guests at his Highland retreat, Birkhall.
Keep on dancing
Last September they provided the entertainment at the annual Dinner Dance of the Civil Aviation Chaplains’ Association.
Each year they dance at Run Balmoral, organise the Ballater Victoria Week dance night, and host a wonderful weekend of Scottish Country dancing at Mar Lodge attracting scores of enthusiasts from all parts of the UK.
These women are pursuing an enjoyable and inexpensive hobby that keeps them fit, while also doing a great deal of good for others – and they plan to keep on doing it as long as they can.
Rumour is that the retiral age from the group is 80.