Highland Dancing | Halkirk Highland Games, Scotland

Halkirk Highland Games, Scotland

Highland Dancing

Highland Dancing

2015 Results

First 3 in each age group of Open Competition required

Age Group Name Town
12 & Under 1 Tashy Cormack Thrumster
2 Faith Campbell Thrumster
3 Lainey Warner Thurso
13 & Under 16 1 Chloe Sinclair Wick
2 Holly Lyall Kirkwall
3 Jenna Wilson Dingwall
16 & Over 1 Rebecca Thow Aberdeen
2 Stacey Webster Wick
3 Rebecca Patterson Wick

Scottish Highland Dancing

Highland dancing is a style of competitive solo dancing developed in the Scottish Highlands in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the context of competitions at public events such as Highland Games, where it is performed to the accompaniment of Highland bagpipe music.

Highland dancing should not be confused with Scottish Country dancing, which is both a social dance (that is, a dance which is danced with a partner or partners) like ballroom dancing, and a formation dance (that is, a dance in which an important element is the pattern of group movement about the dance floor) like square dancing.

In Highland dancing, the dancers dance on the balls of the feet and is a form of solo step dancing, from which it evolved. Whilst some forms of step dancing are purely percussive in nature, Highland dancing involves not only a combination of steps, but also some integral upper body, arm and hand movements.

In Highland Dancing, a “pas de basques” is described as follows:
Prepare with an extension of the working foot to second aerial position low. Spring to that side, bringing the new working foot into third or fifth position on the half point. Beat, without exaggeration, the ball of the other foot in third or fifth rear, sharply extending the front foot if required to begin the next movement. In the Primary level, 16 of these are performed and it is considered a dance, so this is one of the first movements a Highland dancer learns.

Most judges evaluate a dancer on three major criteria: timing, technique and interpretation/overall deportment.

  • Timing concerns the ability of the dancer to follow the rhythm of the music.
  • Technique has to do with the correct execution of the steps in coordination with the movements of the rest of the body, including head, arm and hand movements.
  • Artistic interpretation covers that essential element of all dance and artistry in general which cannot be quantified or reduced to any set of rules or specific points, but which does concern the ability of the dancer or performer to convey a sense of feeling, understanding, and appreciation of the art form.
  • The ability of the dancer including the jumping height and the confidence

Like other dance traditions, what is called “Highland dancing” is a hybrid form that has been constantly changing according to contemporary aesthetics and interpretations of the past. While some elements may be centuries old, other elements are much more modern. The vast majority of dances now performed were composed in the 20th century.

Highland dancing is a competitive and technical dance form requiring technique, stamina, and strength, and is recognised as a sport by the Sport Council of Scotland.

Highland Dress

Males wear a traditional Scottish hat called a Balmoral and a doublet of coloured velvet or cloth. If the jacket is in the “Prince Charlie” style then it is to be accompanied by a shirt and bow tie with a waistcoat, cummerbund or belt. Jackets in the “Montrose” style are to be worn with a white lace jabot and, optionally, sleeve ruffles. A kilt and matching tartan hose are worn with a sporran, or tartan trews (trousers) can be worn instead of a kilt for the Seann Triubhas.

Females wear a tartan kilt with a velvet jacket, worn with a lace insert, or a sleeveless velvet vest worn over a white blouse. The jacket or vest may be black or coloured with a gold or silver braid and buttons down the front. Matching tartan hose are also worn.

Sailor’s Hornpipe dress

Both sexes wear the same outfit for the Sailor’s Hornpipe in either navy or white. A v-neck jumper is worn over a square-necked white vest with bell bottom trousers. A navy or light blue collar and a regulation cap are also worn.

Irish Jig dress

Males wear a Paddy hat, red or green muffler and tailcoat, brown or khaki breeches and a waistcoat in a contrasting colour to that of the tailcoat. A shillelagh, a kind of Irish cudgel, is carried for twirling.

Females may wear one of several combinations of red, green and white blouses, dresses, skirts and cummerbunds. Dancers also wear white underskirts and a white apron.
Irish Jig shoes are black, green or red and, though they closely resemble ghillies, are hard shoes.

The Highland Fling

This is the most famous of the solo Highland Dances. Legend claims that the dance derived when an old shepherd, who was tutoring his grandson on the chanter out on the hillside, witnessed a stag pirouetting a short distance away. The old man asked the youngster if he could attempt to imitate the noble animal. The lad tried and succeeded and hence the steps on the one spot and also the graceful curve of the arms and hands, depicting the stag’s antlers.

The Sword Dance

In Gaelic this is known as the Gillie Callum and is a martial dance which dates from 1054 and owes its origin to Malcolm Canmore who slew one of Macbeath’s chiefs. Taking his victim’s sword and crossing it, on the ground, with his own claymore the triumphant Canmore danced over and around the naked blades with the ecstasy of victory. Legend tells us that warriors, prior to entering battle, performed the dance and if the swords were not touched by the feet, the omens were good.

Seann Triubhais

This is an extremely energy sapping dance. Pronounced ‘shawn trews’, in Gaelic it means “old trousers”. It starts slowly and increases in tempo throughout the latter stages. This dance recognised the dominance after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 when both bagpipes and kilt were banned. Any dancing had to be done in trousers and the slow tempo represented the disgust of having to do so, whilst the shaking movement represents the removal of the trousers. The quick steps are a display of pleasure when the Scots were once more able to wear the kilt.

This dance is usually done with either…

  • 4 steps (3 slow steps and 1 quick step) 3&1
  • 6 steps (4 slow steps and 2 quick steps) 4&2

The first step must always be done to start the dance, but the rest of the steps are up to the dancer to choose.


The Hullachan, to give its Gaelic name, is performed by four dancers and is often called the Reel O’Tulloch. It originated on a wintry Sunday in the small village of Tulloch in Perthshire, when the minister was late in appearing. The congregation, in order to keep warm, started to dance reel steps and swing each other by the arms. Although the dancers perform as a quartet, they are of course judged individually.

Sailor’s Hornpipe

The Hornpipe mimics a sailor in the Navy doing work aboard a sailing ship: hauling rope, sliding on the rollicking deck, rowing, climbing the rigging and saluting, manning the yardarm, splicing the main brace, etc. It has quite a lot of detail for portraying the character (e.g. the dancer does not touch his/her palms, assumed to be dirty, on the uniform). Performed in a British sailor’s uniform, its name derives from the ship’s accompanying musical instrument, the hornpipe.

Irish Jig

The Irish Jig is a humorous caricature of, and tribute to, Irish step dancing. The dancer, in a red and green costume, is an interpretation of an Irish person, gesturing angrily and frowning. If the Irish Jig is danced by a woman, it is about either the distressed wife scolding her husband, a woman being tormented by leprechauns, or a washerwoman chasing taunting children away who have dirtied her washing – the showing of the woman’s fist symbolises her wanting to beat up the children, the leprechauns, or the husband.

If it is danced by a man, it is the story of Paddy’s leather breeches, in which a careless washerwoman has shrunk Paddy’s fine leather breeches and he is waving his shillelagh at her in anger and showing his fist, intending to hit her.