IT WAS only recently I first heard of The Salmon Dance. I don’t mean the song by the music duo The Chemical Brothers. I mean the traditional dance performed in Scotland, often after a fair or market day, and at weddings and even at funerals.

I can’t dance; well I can, but you know what I mean. I’m a dad after all and, as my kids will tell you, dad dancing is my speciality. I’ve reached the age where I don’t care about my image or how foolish I may look when I dance, I just enjoy how it makes me feel. I actually love dancing more than I ever have as a result.

In my earlier days, I never much liked dancing to disco music. It made me self-conscious. But give me a trance or techno tune and I’d dance all night.

Those days of clubbing are long over, of course, but one type of dance which I can still enjoy is ceilidh dancing. I’ve loved it ever since I was a young child. It’s the only kind of dancing that has no minimum or maximum age limit and, as such, is a magical part of our culture. Even my kids will dance with me when we are at a ceilidh, although when I try to disco dance they disown me completely.

I think one of the joys of a ceilidh dance is you don’t really need to be a ‘good’ dancer to enjoy taking part. Getting wrong-footed, or momentarily confused, or grabbing the wrong partner, all seems part of the fun. It’s fun and inclusive, and some of the dances and moves are very easy to learn.

The uptick in ceilidh dances at this time of year is the tonic I need as the nights draw in and the weather outside turns cold and dreich. And it was at a recent ceilidh dance that I heard about the tradition of The Salmon Dance.

It seems that in towns and villages in the 15th century, The Salmon Dance was performed once the business of a market or fair was over. It was a form of community therapy, in which people could release the stress of the working day with the exuberance and fun of dancing.

The dance got its name because it mimicked the cycle of the salmon, who swim from the river of their birth into the sea, then after a couple of years find their way back to the same river. It was a fast dance, and the most energetic and fun part was the imitation of the salmon as they swam upstream as the dancers would leap like a salmon.

It gives us a wonderful image of our ancestors ‘giein it laldy’ with leaping and dancing after a hard day’s work, with what sounds like a dance which would be well placed in any ceilidh. In the 1500s, influences from France brought new dances, often for the nobility but adapted and, I suspect, made more fun, by the common folk. It seems the Reformation may have dampened the fun for a while; nae salmon leaping unless ye were a salmon!

But people will always want to dance.

It’s obvious why, really: dancing is fun and good for your mental and physical health. It’s potentially good for the development of social skills and personal confidence as well. I know not everyone has the abilities, and some will feel awkward no matter the age. But essentially, dance is one of the pure joys in life, especially when we are young, even if just watching or partaking in another way, like playing a drum, clapping or cheering the dancers on.

These benefits are recognised, which is why dancing is part of the curriculum for Scottish primary schools. But a study last year by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland revealed that, although it’s part of the curriculum, “yet 48 per cent of primary school teachers say that dance is ‘non-existent’ or ‘almost non-existent’ in their schools. While 85 per cent of teachers believe dance is an important part of the curriculum, many lack confidence and feel unprepared in bringing it into the classroom”.

Ceilidh dancing is one of the most inclusive and simple forms of dance to learn. You don’t have to be a dance expert to quickly learn and teach the Do-si-do, or a couple of simple dances like the Grand Old Duke of York, and even the Orcadian Strip The Willow!

If every Initial Teacher Education provider included regular ceilidh dancing as part of the course, I think the familiarity with the dances would help teachers to have fun with them in their classroom. Just by dancing the dances, you learn the dances and how fun they are, even when you get them wrong.

The point is I don’t think we have to be skilled dancers to enjoy dancing. Children need the regular opportunity to dance and enjoy the benefits it brings. We all do, and our medieval ancestors knew it.

Maybe we could rediscover, or reinvent, The Salmon Dance, and regularly allow our kids to experience the joy of salmon leaps too.