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Traditional Highland Dancing performed at its best is a delightful spectacle. No other event encompasses such verve and enthusiasm and what better sight can there be than kilted dancers swaying an pirouetting to the traditional airs on the Scottish Bagpipe.
Highland Dancing is regarded as being one of the most sophisticated forms of national dancing in the world, and whilst it is almost impossible for dance historians to separate fact from fiction when researching the most popular Scottish Dances, the descriptions below have become most credible and popular, probably due to their imaginative and picturesque stories.
Traditionally, Scottish Highland Dancing competitions included four standard dances - The Sword Dance, The Sean Truibhas, The Reel of Tulloch and the Highland Fling, later a couple of imports were added to the repertoire - The Sailors Hornpipe and The Irish Jig.

The Highland Fling
Together with the Sword Dance, the Highland Fling is probably the most famous of the Scottish Dances. Tulluchgorm was the earliest form of Highland Fling, but towards the end of the 18th Century it had undergone change and improvements and it is thought to have evolved about 1790, legend has it that an old shepherd was giving chanter lessons to his grandson on a hillside when he saw a stag rearing and wheeling in the distance. He asked the boy if he could imitate the stag's dance which he did, and hence the steps and the graceful curve of the arms and hands depicting the stag's antlers. The dance is performed on the same spot throughout and this is because the clansmen traditionally danced on their targe (leather covered studded shield). Another more unimaginative explanation is that the dance evolved as a solo performance of the reel.

The Sword Dance
Gille Chaluim. Said to have originated in 1054 when King Malcolm Canmore clashed in battle near Dunsinane with one of Macbeth's chiefs. Having slain his opponent, Malcolm crossed his claymore with that of his opponent to make the sign of the cross and danced in exultation over them. After this occasion, it is said clansmen would cross their swords prior to battle and if they could complete the war dance without touching the swords it signified they would be victors. Prior to 1850 the steps were danced clockwise round the sword, not anti-clockwise as nowadays.

The Seann Truibhas
Said to reflect the Highlanders desire to share off the hated Sassenach trousers when the kilt was prohibited after the 1745 rebellion, the dance is performed in the then much hated truibhas (pronounced 'trews') and the slow tempo shows the dancers attempts to shake off the offending garment of pleasure at the rescinding of the ban in 1782. the very great French influence of Scottish culture is shown by embellishments such as the pirouettes and the final French-style entrechat.

Very little reliable information is know as to the origin of Strathspeys and Reels, but they are known to have been danced towards the end of the 17th Century and Jacobite days. The Reel of Tulloch originated in the North East Village of Tulloch one winter morning long ago when the minister was late in arriving. The assembled congregation, waiting outside the church doors, stamped their feet and clapped their hands to keep warm and as someone began to whistle a Highland Air, some people started swinging by the arm and dancing their Reel steps. Thus a new Reel got its foundation. The Reel of Tulloch along with the Strathspey and Reel and Strathspey and Tulloch are danced with three other dancers, but each dancer is still judged on an individual basis. The Strathspey and Reel of Tulloch are team dances originally danced by males. The emphasis is on the first beat of each bar, with lesser importance on the third beat. Now everyone enjoys the stirring steps to the lively tunes.

Sailors Hornpipe
This dance despite the title does not originate with sailors. It was an ancient dance common to many parts of the British Isles. Its name comes from the fact that the dance was usually accompanied by the music of the 'Horn Pipe', a common instrument comparable to the present day tin flute. In the time the dance became so popular with seafaring men that it became know as the Sailors Hornpipe. The arm movements used imitate many of the actions used by sailors in the days of wooden ships.

Irish Jig
The Irish Jig danced at the Highland Games is traditional footwork and steps with the arm movements of an Irishman in a highly agitated state of mind. Traditional Irish is danced with no turnout of the legs and feet and has no arm movements. This dance is the Scottish version of the Irish Jig and is more a character dance.

Organiser - Jean Swanston