Highland Dance

The CNY Scottish Games offers Highland Dance Competition for grades from beginners 9 & under to Premier 17 and over.  The dance is sanctioned by the Federation of United States Teachers and Adjudicators (FUSTA) of Highland Dancing.

Scottish Highland Dancing is a combination of strength, grace, and costume set to traditional music of the highlands played on the great highland bagpipes. Highland dances are generally danced solo although there are several demonstration dances performed by teams. The dance music is specific to the dance being performed and includes Strathspeys, Reels, Hornpipes and Jigs. Competition dances are made up of different steps or parts there are usually four or six steps to a dance.   An interesting difference between Irish step dancing and the highland dance is the expression of the arms and hands.  Whereas the step dancing concentrates on footwork with the hands to the side in Highland dance the motion of the arms in different positions above the head and on the hips is integral to the dance.

Highland dancing originated as displays of strength and agility of clansmen but now is performed by men and women. In competitions men and women compete together on the dance platform although usually the number of women competing far exceeds the number of men.

There are two styles of Highland Dances: traditional Highland Dances and the National Dances.

Highland Dances

Highland Fling
This is the oldest of the traditional dances of Scotland and thought to have signified a victory celebration following a battle. The warriors made this dance a feat of strength and agility by dancing on their upturned shields which had a sharp spike of steel projecting from the center. The clansmen learned early to move with great skill and dexterity.  This is typically the first dance taught to an aspiring Highland dance student.  It is danced to the Strathspey.

Sword Dance or Gillie Callum

Legend has it that the initial Gillie Callum was created by Malcolm Canmore, a Celtic Prince who fought a battle in 1054. Triumphant, he crossed his opponent’s sword with his own and danced over them celebrating his victory. It is also said that the warriors danced the Sword Dance prior to battle. If the warrior touched the swords, it was considered an omen symbolizing injury or death in battle. This dance is almost always performed to a tune which bears its name, the Gillie Callum.
Reel O’ Tulloch

The Reel O’Tulloch is said to have started in a churchyard on a cold winter morning when the minister was late for his service. The parishioners tried to keep warm by stamping their feet, clapping their hands and swinging each other by the arms.  A bagpipers repetoire will include a number of reels and there is a reel which bears the name of the dance, The Reel of Tulloch.

Seann Triubhas or Old Trousers

This dance originated as a political protest dating back to 1745 when the wearing of the kilt was an act of treason. Pronounced "shawn trews", this Gaelic phrase means "old trousers". The beautiful, graceful steps reflect the restrictions imposed by the foreign trousers. The lively quick time in the dance recreates the Highlanders’ celebration of rediscovered freedom.

National Dances

The National Dances are more modern than the Highland Dances and were developed so women could participate. The costume worn by women is called the Aboyne dress named in honor of the Aboyne Highland Games in Scotland where women were forbidden to wear the traditional Highland outfit. The National Dances are much more rhythmic and balletic; however, they still require quick and precise movements. Some of the dances are the Scottish Lilt, Village Maid, Blue Bonnets and Scotch Measure. Several National Dances are performed in the kilt since they were originally men’s dances such as The Highland Laddie, and Wilt Thou Go to the Barracks, Johnny? Men, of course, also perform all of the dances, but they wear the traditional Highland outfit.

Irish Jig

The Scottish version of the Irish Jig is meant to parody an angry Irish washerwoman when she finds out some neighborhood boys have knocked all of her clean wash to the ground. Another version describes a woman who shakes her firsts and flounces her skirt because she is furious with her husband who has been out drinking until the wee hours.  Female performers dance in colorful skirts and vests and special jig shoes with taps or clackers.  There are many jigs in the bagpipe music tradition including the Irish Washerwoman and Paddy’s Leather Britches.

Sailor’s Hornpipe

The Sailor’s Hornpipe requires strength and stamina to mimic in dance a variety of shipboard tasks including swabbing the deck, climbing the ship’s rigging, standing watch and hauling in rope. The Hornpipe is danced in a British sailor's uniform and derived its name from the fact that usually the musical accompaniment was played on a hornpipe rather than bagpipes.  These days the dance is performed to My Love is but a Lassie Yet, Crossing of the Minch, Circassian Circle and many other hornpipes.


Highland Dance competition is divided by age group and skill level.  A dancer who plans to compete must register with FUSTA at the regional level and obtain an Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing (SOBHD) Worldwide registration card. This card indicates the competition level of the dancer: Primary, Beginner, Novice, Intermediate, or Premier. 

In the Beginner and Novice categories, a competition win of at least one 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place medal entitles the dancer to receive a stamp on their registration card. When a dancer has six stamps, or has been in the category for six months (whichever is longer), she/he progresses to the next level.

Intermediate dancers remain in the category for one calendar year from the date of the first intermediate competition entered, whether they compete at it or not. After that time period is up, regardless of how many wins, the dancer moves into the highest and most prestigious category, Premier, where they will remain the rest of their dancing career. All dancers are required to re-register every year. 

Primary dancers do not get their cards stamped until they turn seven years old and enter the Beginner category.

Dancers must present their registration cards at each competition in order to receive their awards. This registration scheme is a very effective way of keeping track of the dancer's progress, and ensures that every dancer has the opportunity to compete with others of comparable ability throughout the world. http://www.fusta.us/http://www.sobhd.net/shapeimage_2_link_0shapeimage_2_link_1