All About Highland Dance

What is it?


Highland Dancing is an incredibly technical, elegant, and strong form of dance set apart from most other modern forms by its’ historic roots. It dates back to the 15th or 16th centuries and has evolved from non-competitive, social dancing to become intricate, technical and athletic. It is taught and competed in the United States, Canada, Scotland, England, North Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. Several Highland Games are held in California every year, and you can learn more about where to see Highland Dancing in our links page.

The Dances

Highland Fling


The Highland Fling is the first full dance children learn and compete.The goal of the dance is to stay on the same spot throughout. Legend has it that Scottish warriors used to lay down their shield and do a victory dance on it without falling off.

Sword Dance (Ghillie Callum)


The Sword Dance is one of the most-recognizable Highland Dances due to it's difficulty and impressiveness. Soldiers would lay down their Swords before battle and dance over them. If they made it throughthe dance without kicking the swords, it was a good luck omen and they would win the battle.

Seann Triubhas


After losing to the English at the Battle of Culloden, the Scots were punished for the Jacobite Rebellion by the banning of the kilt. The shaking action in the Seann Triubhas represents angry Scots kicking off their trousers in favor of a kilt.



While waiting for Church one cold morning, some Scots decided to keep warm by dancing in groups of four. The dance evolved to have more variations than any other dance and is the only Highland dance performed in a team, though it is still judged individually. 

National Dances


National dances are more balletic and elegant than the Highland dances. They include the Flora MacDonald's Fancy, Scottish Lilt, Blue Bonnets, Earl of Earl, Scotch Miller, Village Maid, Highland Laddie, and Barracks Johnnie. 

Jig and Hornpipe


The Irish Jig and the Sailor's Hornpipe are character dances. The Irish Jig tells the tale of an angry washerwoman who was mad at her husband after he came home late drunk. The Sailor's Hornpipe depicts various movements performed on a ship such as pulling the ropes, cable hauling, and waving the flags. 

Fun Facts


Some competitions offer choreography competitions where dancers can wear unique costumes and dance to non-traditional music.


The World Championships have been held at the Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, Scotland for almost 100 years


Originally, only men were allowed to compete. Nowadays, men and women compete against each other.