History of Scottish Highland Dance



Highland Fling:

This was first presented as a victory dance in battle. Originally, clansmen and warriors performed this dance on a small shield (also known as a targ) which was carried into battle. These shields had long, sharp spikes that circled the perimeter of this heavy piece of protection. These clansmen carefully placed this targ and danced on the center of it; the dancer remained in the middle because one false move could be painful.

Return to Top

Sword Dance: (Ghille Calum)

There is no better known highland dance than the sword dance.    The sword dance dates back to 1504.    A Celtic Prince − who won a fierce battle− took his opponent‘s sword, crossed it, along with his, symbolizing the sign of the Cross, and joyfully danced over these swords.

Return to Top

Sean Truibhas:

Seann Triubhas is Gaelic for, “Old Trousers”.    After the battle of Culloden in 1746, where the army of Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated by the English, the Scots were forbidden––by the Disarming Act of 1746–– to wear the kilt, play the bagpipes, or perform their Scottish dances.    However, the Act was repealed in 1782, as many things “Scottish,” had become popular and accepted again.    This dance begins in slow time showing how restricted a dancer feels wearing trousers.    Upon the clapping of the hands, the music changes to quick time to tell of the shedding of the trousers.    The quick time shows the joy and freedom of the native to be back in a kilt.

Return to Top

The Strathspey and Highland Reel:

Legend says that the Reel originated with well-wishers waiting outside a church on a cold, winter afternoon.    The dancers made groups of four and performed “reels”.    Of all the highland dancing events in which the dancers compete, 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.

Return to Top

National Dances: Lilt, Flora, Earl of Errol and Village Maid:

These four dances (and others) are known as Scottish National dances.    They have been collected from many of Scotland’s old dance masters and are more modern in movement.    In America, National dances were not danced in competition until the 1960s.    The Aboyne dress, is named after the Aboyne Highland Games of Scotland.    The National dances are similar to Highland dances, but the style is a soft and gentle form of ballet movements.    These dances require skill to execute correctly, especially since the rhythms are more complicated than conventional Highland dancing.

Return to Top

Blue Bonnets:

The dance has many basic ballet movements and it depicts a graceful lady attempting to attract the attention of a “Blue Bonnet”.    “Blue Bonnets” was a name for Scotsmen.    They received this nick name because of the bonnets they used to wear.

Return to Top

Earl of Errol:

Although it looks quite easy, it is perhaps one of the hardest National dances to perform well.    This was originally a dance performed in hard shoes and it was choreographed for the Earl of Errol. Errol is a small town in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Return to Top

Village Maid:

This beautiful dance was influenced by the Continental Ballet. This dance is unusual because the dancer actually steps onto the flat foot, most of the other dances requiring the dancer to be on the ball of the supporting foot at all times.

Return to Top

Johnnie:

The full name of the dance is “Wilt thou go to the Barracks Johnnie?”    This is supposed to have been a recruiting dance for the army.    A recruiting officer would use a dancer to attract people to his recruiting station.    The officer would also use the dancer to entertain while he was in the village.

Return to Top

Sailor´s Hornpipe:

This is a very energetic dance which recreates the many chores of a sailor on board his ship. The dance movements depict a sailor hauling ropes, waving the farewell flag and looking out to the sea. It is danced in a British sailor's uniform.    The Hornpipe derived its name because the music being played on ship was a hornpipe, rather than bagpipes.    This instrument was common in those days, similar to a tin whistle today.    This fun, spirited dance is popular in many parts of the British Isles.

Return to Top

Irish Jig:

There are a few ideas as to why this dance was created.    The Scottish version is meant to be a parody of an Irish washerwoman in an agitated frame of mind.    The quick feet and arm movements portray an Irish woman upset at her husband who has been out all evening, leaving her home to do all the household chores.    Arm movements are an intrinsic part of Scottish dance, and so the Scots added them to the Irish Jig as a humorous salute to their Celtic brethrens across the Irish Sea.    The male version of the dance is supposed to be an impression of the happy-go-lucky Irishman facing his wife's outbursts.

Return to Top