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Royal Military College of Canada Scottish highland dance, piper, drummers 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. In Highland dancing, the dancers dance on the balls of the feet  Highland dancing is a form of solo step dancing , from which it evolved, but while 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. 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. Some Highland dances do derive from traditional social dances, however. An example is the Highland Reel, also known as the Foursome Reel, in which groups of four dancers alternate between solo steps facing one another and a figure-of-eight style with intertwining progressive movement. Even so, in competitions, the Highland Reel dancers are judged individually. Most Highland dances are danced solo. Scottish and Irish dancing[ edit ] Many non-practitioners think the two Celtic forms are synonymous. While some dance studios teach both, they are two distinct styles, not just in the attire. There is a greater use of choreography than traditional movements. It was 'created from the Gaelic folk dance repertoire, but formalized with the conventions of ballet '. Forms of sword dancing are also attested in the late Medieval period. Ritualistic and combative dances that imitated epic deeds and martial skills were a familiar feature in Scottish tradition and folklore. The earliest reference to these dances in Scotland is mentioned in the Scotichronicon which was compiled in Scotland by Walter Bower in the s. At the head of this procession were the skilled musicians with many sorts of pipe music including the music of bagpipes, and behind them others splendidly performing a war-dance with intricate weaving in and out. Bringing up the rear was a figure regarding whom it was difficult to decide whether it was a man or an apparition. It seemed to glide like a ghost rather than walk on feet. When it looked as if he was disappearing from everyone's sight, the whole frenzied procession halted, the song died away, the music faded, and the dancing contingent froze suddenly and unexpectantly. The dance, 'a natural feature of the festivities', was used as part of a plot to assassinate the King, where the conspirators were able to bare their weapons without arising suspicion. Fortunately for the King, at the decisive moment the agreed signal was never given. Which God be praised was acted and done without hurt or skaith to any. The British central government's policy of cultural suppression against Highland culture culminated in when the Act of Proscription , which forbade the wearing of kilts by civilian males, went into effect. The Act was repealed in and in the early 19th century, there was something of a romanticisation of Highland culture or such as it was imagined to be. This revival, later boosted greatly by Queen Victoria 's enthusiasm for it, included the beginnings of the Highland games as we now know them. Highland dancing was an integral part of the Games from the very start of their modern revival, but the selection of dances performed at Games was intentionally narrowed down, mostly for the convenience of judges. Therefore, while the tradition of Highland games seemed at first glance to have fostered and preserved Highland dancing, many older dances got lost because nobody considered them worthwhile to practice, as they were not required for competition. The nature of these displays and competitions also affected the style of the dancing itself. Organisations[ edit ] Most dancing prior to the s was not organised at a national or international level. Judges of competitions were local persons, without specific standards for attire or the steps to the danced. Local Caledonian societies trained young dancers in the way of each society. Slowly consistency of steps was achieved, and dancing-specific organisations were established. Dancers now undergo written examinations and practical assessments to become a teacher, and then further training and testing to become a dancer examiner then competition judge or adjudicator. The SOBHD standardised dance steps for competition purposes, established rules for competitions and attire, and certifies competitions and instructors. Juvenile, Junior and Adult. The Board comprises delegates from the examining bodies professional teaching associations , affiliated organisations in Australia Australian Board of Highland Dancing Inc. This has caused and continues to cause some confusion for dancers. Each year the SOBHD selects the championship steps to be performed by dancers at championships around the world. Other dancing bodies[ edit ] Other organisations that qualify Highland dancers, teachers, and judges and hold competitions include: Such organisations provide a wide syllabus of Highland and national dances and steps within their teaching. Highland games and competitions[ edit ] Highland dancers at the Ceres Highland Games , At Highland games , the Highland dances were at first danced only by men. Women would take part in social dances, and girls did learn solo dances as part of their general dance classes. In fact, dancing masters would often encourage their most promising students male or female to perform solo dances at their end-of-term 'assemblies'. In the late 19th century a young woman named Jenny Douglas the name of Lorna Mitchell is also suggested decided to enter a Highland dance competition. As this was not expressly forbidden, she was allowed to enter. There have been several female World Champions crowned at the Cowal Highland Gathering since they began organising the competition in Indeed the first three Adult World Championships were won by ladies: This feminisation of folk arts is a common pattern in the process of their 'gentrification', especially after they no longer serve a functional role in a male-centred, warrior culture. Males are still well represented at the world championships. Highland dancing competitions may be held solely or as part of larger events. The small annual Scottish Glen Isla competition is almost inconspicuous on the roadside, and is beside piping events and some heavy game events. Canada's Glengarry Highland Games on the other hand is one of the largest dancing and piping events on the North American calendar. Many of Australia's competitions are held indoors as a solo activity, while Canadian and Scottish competitions are associated with Highland games with a nearby hall available in case of inclement weather. As far as competitions were concerned, until the early 20th century the usual dances seen were the Sword Dance, the Seann Triubhas, the Strathspey and Highland Reel, the Reel of Tulloch, and the Highland Fling. Since then, various other pre-existing dances have been added to the competition repertoire. For example, two character dances, ' The sailor's hornpipe ' and 'The Irish jig ' gained popularity in music hall and vaudeville productions. Most judges today evaluate a dancer on three major criteria: 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. The various governing bodies of Highland dancing establish parameters for the dances themselves and scoring systems to grade the dancers and determine their class and progress from one class to another. The scoring system for these competitions begins with each dancer starting with points. For any mistakes, poor execution, etc. The dancers are then ranked from most to least points, and medals and points are given based on the number of dancers in the class. The notion of how dances were to be executed changed dramatically over the years. For instance, doing an earlyth-century-style sword dance in a competition today would get a dancer disqualified nearly immediately. There used to be terrible confusion as to what would be allowed or prescribed where, until the SOBHD came up with a standard that has become acceptable to the majority of competitive dancers. Types of dances[ edit ] Scottish highland dances are generally divided into several types. Categories are more for convenience than strict style: Highland dances such as the Highland fling and sword dance national dances such as the Scottish lilt, Flora McDonald's fancy character dances such as the sailor's hornpipe, Irish jig, and the cakewalk Step dancing and clog dancing also used to regularly be part of some competitions. Each dance comprises a number of steps, which may be numbered or worded. A SOBHD four-step Highland fling may have the 1st step, 7th, 5th alternative, and finish with the 8th step; or, Shedding, Double shake and rock, Second back-stepping, and Last shedding. Dextrously placing the feet by a peculiar step in the intervals between crossed blades, as in the Ghillie Callum, has long been linked with dances before a decisive battle or as a victory dance. A more practical explanation behind the meaning of this dance can be found in the training halls of older styles of fencing, where students of the sword developed their footwork by following geometric patterns of crosses, squares and triangles marked out on the floor. In another version of Scottish sword dancing, the Highlander danced on a targe shield, this has similarities with an ancient Roman exercise in which the man standing on a shield had to defend himself and stay upright while others tried to pull it out from under him. Many of the Highland dances now lost to us were once performed with traditional weapons that included the Lochaber axe, the broadsword, targe and dirk and the flail , the old Skye dancing song, 'Buailidh mi thu anns a' cheann' I will strike your head indicate some form of weapon play to music, 'breaking the head' was the winning blow in cudgelling matches throughout Britain, 'for the moment that blood runs an inch anywhere above the eyebrow, the old gamester to whom it belongs is beaten, and has to stop'. The Highland Dirk Dance , in which the dancer flourishes the weapon, is often linked to the sword dance or dances called 'Mac an Fhorsair', literally, 'the son of the Forester' , the 'Broad Sword Exercise' or the 'Bruicheath' battle dance. They are mentioned in a number of sources, usually military, and may have been performed in a variety of different forms, practiced by two performers in a duelling form, or as a solo routine. The tune of Gille Chaluim anglicised as 'Gillie Callum' and meaning 'the servant of Calum' in Gaelic has been claimed to date back to Malcolm III of Scotland — but this claim is certain to have been fabricated to provide false credentials for the antiquity of the dance which is unlikely to have been invented before According to one tradition, the crossed swords were supposedly placed on the ground before a battle while a soldier danced around the blades. If his feet knocked against the swords, he would be wounded in battle. This may derive from the folklore often surrounding warrior culture, but the style of the dance was changed by the Maclennan brothers of Fairburn. Another no less romantic theory is that it was performed before battles like the sword dance , on top of the dancer's shield. The shield would have a spike in the middle, around which the dancer would do the dance that involves flicking of the feet, jumping and careful stepping supposedly to drive evil spirits away. The dancer is confined to one spot and snaps his fingers which was reduced in recent times to merely holding the hands with the thumb touching the second joint of the middle finger, and the other three fingers extended in the air. Leaving aside the obvious difficulty of dancing around a sharpened spike on a shield, a much more plausible theory is that the Highland Fling is none other than a Foursome Reel with the progressive bits left out - at social gatherings, dancers would 'compete' by showing off the fancy solo steps they could perform, long before formal competitions at highland games had been invented. Another story surrounding the Fling claims that it is meant to imitate a stag; the story goes that a boy who saw a stag was asked to describe it by his father. He lacked the words, so danced instead; the position of the hands resembles the head and antlers of a stag. This urban legend hides the fact that Highlanders used to snap their fingers as they danced. During the delay they whistled a highland tune and began to improvise a dance. The Seann Triubhas Scottish Gaelic pronunciation: 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 dances are now supplemented at Highland Games and dance competitions by what are known as National dances. In Highland dancing, every dancer wears a kilt , or tartan trews. Male dancers wear jackets, ties, and 'bonnets' hats. Female dancers wear blouses with vests or jackets. The dancer is wearing the Aboyne dress for females.
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