Highland dance combines the athleticism of Scottish warriors, the grace of a ballerina, and the history of a nation. Every dance has a story. Every dancer is a part of something greater than just a hobby or activity.
The dances we perform today are divided into sub-categories. The main category is simply known as the “Highland dances,” and the rest are divided into “National dances” and “Character dances.”
The Highland dances: These are all patently male and typically very old. Both men and women perform these in a kilt, which is historically a men’s garment, and most pay homage to dances performed by Scottish soldiers before and after war. The Highland Fling, for example, is our oldest dance and comes from a victory dance performed upon a shield by soldiers after battle. The Swords was performed over crossed swords or a sword and scabbard the night before battle. If a soldier accidentally touched the sword with his foot, he believe he’d die in battle. Although we retain the strength and intent of these dances, today we put emphasis on technique, precision, and presentation.
The National dances: These include “ladies’ dances” and newer male dances. Women performing the ladies’ dances wear a more ladylike tartan costume and the movements are more balletic and flowy. Men doing these dances wear the kilt or tartan trousers. The men’s dances within this category are often still tied to war or the military, but far newer than the ancient Highland dances. For instance, the Highland Laddie comes from a dance choreographed by WWI soldiers to the popular bagpipe marching tune, “Highland Laddie.”
The Character dances: There are only three character dances typically performed today: the Scottish version of the Irish Jig, the Sailor’s Hornpipe, and the Cakewalk. The Jig and Hornpipe are the most common of the three. The Jig is a hardshoe dance depicting a washerwoman who is angry at several young boys for dragging her clean laundry through the mud, while the Hornpipe depicts the life of a sailor at sea.