Highland dance is a style of competitive dancing developed in the Scottish Highlands in the 19th and 20th centuries, in the context of competitions at public events such as the Highland games. It was created from the Gaelic folk dance repertoire, but formalized with the conventions of ballet, and has been subject to influences from outside the Highlands. Highland dancing is often performed with the accompaniment of Highland bagpipe music and dancers wear specialized shoes called ghillies. It is now seen at nearly every modern-day Highland Games event including Fergus where kilts of competitors fly and leap throughout the weekend.
To enter the Fergus Dance competitions, please go to the H.D.A.O. website: https://www.hdaontario.com/
Description of Dances
The Scottish version is meant to be an enactment of an Irish washerwoman in an agitated frame of mind. The Irish Jig is an energetic dance with lots of fist shaking and skirt flouncing by the female competitors. The story of the dance is as follows: Female dancers are acting out the anger of an Irish woman whose husband has not made it home from the pub until all hours. Male dancers are acting out the happy-go-lucky Irishman facing his wives’ tirade. It is one of the National dances that has its own costume.
Flora MacDonald’s Fancy
This is a dance in honour of Flora MacDonald. In 1746 this intrepid young Scotswoman helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape to France after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden. Such heroism won her the admiration of the Scottish people who honoured her with this dance.
The Lilt exemplifies National dances as it is very graceful and heavily influenced by ballet. It is an unusual dance because it has only six beats per measure rather the standard eight.
This dance is similar to the Scottish Lilt in that it is very graceful and has a balletic look and feel. This is one of the rare dances where the dancer can step on the flat foot in certain movements.
One legend associates it as a warriors dance of triumph following a battle. It was supposedly danced over a small round shield, with a spike projecting from the centre, known as a Targe. Yet another legend links the dance to a young boy imitating the antics of a stag rearing and wheeling on a hillside; the curved arms and hands representing the stag’s antlers.
Gillie Callum (Sword Dance)
One story said to originate from the times of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, recalls that when King Malcolm III (Canmore) of Scotland killed a fellow chieftain in battle, he celebrated by dancing over his own bloody claymore crossed with the sword of his enemy. Yet another story tells that a soldier would dance around and over crossed swords prior to battle; should his feet touch the blade during the dance however, then this was considered an ill omen for the following day. Another and more practical explanation is that the dance was simply an exercise used to develop and hone the nibble footwork required to stay alive in sword play.
Gaelic for “old trousers” – Pronounced “shawn trewus”, the dance is romantically associated with the highlander’s disgust at having the wear the hated Sassenach trousers that they were forced to wear when the kilt was banned following the 1745 rebellion. The initial slow dance steps involve lots of leg shaking; symbolising attempts to shed the hated garments; the final faster steps demonstrating the joy of returning to the kilt when the ban ended in 1782.
A Reel is performed by four dancers, although in competition they are all judged individually.
In a Strathspey & Highland Reel, the dancers begin in a line with the two middle dancers back-to-back and the two end dancers facing inward towards the middle. The dancers perform several strathspey movements to complete a figure eight, with the end dancers returning to their original spots and the two middle dancers reversing positions. The dancers then perform a “setting step” – typically a step adapted from the Highland Fling. The strathspey & setting step sequence is repeated before moving to a into the faster tempo Highland Reel. The dancers follow the same figure eight and setting step sequence but use a progressive reel movement rather than a strathspey during the figure eight. The dance culminates with 16 high cuts danced in a circle with the dancers completing the circle facing the judge.
In a Strathspey & 1/2 Reel of Tulloch, the first half of the dance is the same as outlined above. In the quick time, rather than completing the figure eight, the dancers perform setting steps and use propelled pivot turns in which two dancers clasp forearms and pivot in a circle to rotate positions.