A NEW podcast celebrating the female “bonny fechters” of traditional dance has been launched.

Trad Dance Cast puts a spotlight on Betty Jessiman who was the first female dancer to enter an all-male Highland dancing competition after the organisers forgot to stipulate it was men-only in the regulations.

Jessiman, who was born in 1921, went on to be crowned world champion at the World Highland Dancing Championships in 1961.

She also redesigned traditional Highland dance dress to create a much lighter outfit, better suited to women dancers.

The podcast goes on to explore the central role played by some remarkable women involved in the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (RSCDS), which celebrated its centenary year in 2023.

They include the society’s founders Ysobel Stewart and Jean Milligan who set up the first summer dance school in St Andrews in the 1920s.

The National: Jean MilliganJean Milligan (Image: NQ)

Trad Dance Cast guest Helen Russell said: “Mrs Stewart and Miss Milligan gave us a very precious social and cultural gift, by reviving and spreading awareness of Scottish Country Dance and its associated music across the world.

“Today, the RSCDS has branches across the world and champions the benefits of Scottish country dancing for our mental and physical wellbeing.

“Recent studies have shown how dance can improve our quality of life and help prevent dementia, improve cognitive skills and co-ordination and reduce depression and isolation, which these great women pioneers already recognised back in the 1920s. I hope listeners enjoy hearing more about them in the podcast.”

The National: Ysobel StewartYsobel Stewart (Image: NQ)

Also discussed in the first part of the podcast is Isabel Murray, who was born in 1883 and trained at the Aberdeen Physical Training College where she was later appointed principal in her 1920s.

Her father was a publisher and published a physical training manual written by Isabel which explained more than 200 drills/dances and exercises for primary school teachers.

It was published in Aberdeen, London and Edinburgh.

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She ran dance classes which were considered a little risky at the time, and taught a variety of skills including eurythmics, Alexander technique, shooting and corsetry.

An insight into her life is given by Dr Pat Ballantyne, author of Scottish Dance Beyond 1805: Reaction And Regulation.

Part two of the podcast kicks off with more remarkable women in dance and includes an interview with Caroline Brockbank, the founder of Ceilidh Kids.

Produced by the Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland, the podcast has been launched by Pomegranates Festival which runs from April 25 to April 30 and is Scotland’s annual festival of international traditional dance.

Iliyana Nedkova, co-curator of the Pomegranates Festival and Trad Dance Cast, said: “I am very pleased that the first podcast episode of our Trad Dance Cast this year delves into the stories of the quines and bonnie fechters of Scottish traditional dance.

“Our hopes is to encourage the trad dance scene in Scotland, to increase the range and diversity of women’s voices by acknowledging the legacy of those no longer with us and by exploring the impact of gender on our dance culture.”