Scottish Highland Dancing

      Most of the true Highland dances are connected with ancient Scottish folk customs.  The present form evolved through the centuries as refinement in the general form of dance occurred, but the original basic steps and the themes were passed on through the years.

     The Highland dances are performed solo.  They have precise, difficult movements and require much stamina and co-ordination.  Highland Dances were originally danced by men only, but now they're performed by more females than males.  Dance steps are standardized by the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing and competitions are held world-wide.  Judges evaluate a dancer on three major criteria: timing, technique and deportment.

TIMING refers to the ability of the dancer to follow the rhythm of the music.  Dancers must place feet, arms and head in a very precise position simultaneously with the music.

TECHNIQUE means the correct execution of footwork in co-ordination with head, arm and hand movements.  Elevation, or the ability to spring vigorously above the dance platform, counts heavily.

GENERAL DEPORTMENT covers the interpretation the dancer displays in performing the dance.  Balance and general appearance are very important.  No matter how difficult the dance is, the dancer must display supple movement with effortlessness, pleasure, freedom from elaborate showiness, and an unhurried attitude.

     Traditionally, Highland Dancing and Scottish National Dancing competitions are done to bagpipes. The version pipers play today dates back to the 16th Century, when the MacCrimmon family, pipers for McLeod of Harris, worked out not only the form of the bagpipes, but also the intricate fingering on the chanter.  The music itself consists of the melody, which is played on the chanter, backed up by continuous and unvarying tones from the three drone pipes.


     The Highland Fling is a dance of victory in battle.  Traditionally, the ancient warriors and clansmen performed this dance on a small round shield (called a targ) which they carried in to battle.  One can understand the quick footwork and dexterity of the dancer when it is pointed out that most targs carried a pinpoint sharp spike of steel projecting some 5-6 inches from its center.  A false or careless step could be more than a little painful.


     The Sword Dance is the ancient dance of war of the Scottish Gael.  It is said to date back to King Malcolm Canmore.  There is no Highland Dance older or better known than the Ghillie Callum.  Tradition says the original Ghillie Callum was a Celtic prince who was a hero of mortal combat against one of MacBeth's chiefs at the Battle of Dunsinane in 1504.  He is said to have taken the chief's sword, crossed over it with his own on the ground before him, and danced over them both in exultation.
     Prounounced 'shawn trews' in Gaelic, in English it translates to 'old trousers.'  Origins are obscure.  It depicts a person in the act of shedding his trousers.  It's said by some the dance came about in 1783 when the British Disarming Act of 1747 was finally repealed and Scots were allowed to wear their tartans and kilts once again.  The dance mimics a Scot shedding his britches (during the slow, first part of the dance) and returning to his tradition of Highland dress and custom (during the final, up-tempo fling-like step).
     Of all the Highland Dancing events in which the competitors vie, the reels are the closest approach to social dancing.  Even these, however, are individual competitions.  While the teams consist of four dancers, the judges mark each competitor individually.  Legend has it that the reel originated with wellwishers waiting for the minister to arrive at the church for a wedding on a cold day.  The chilly group danced as a means of keeping warm.

Please click on the underlined words to hear the music.

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