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Music & Dance

Highland Dances:

Seann Triubhas
The Seann Triubhas  The Seann Triubhas 

Following the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden in 1746, British Parliament passed the Acts of Proscription, which forbade, among other things, Scotsmen from wearing their beloved kilts. The law was repealed a generation later in 1782, and Highlanders were allowed to don their traditional costume once again. The Seann Triubhas, Gaelic for "old trousers," was created as a dance of celebration. It begins in slow time, showing the constriction of trousers. Upon the clap of the hands, the music changes into quick time to signify the shedding of the trousers, and the dance steps show the freedom and joy in dancing in a kilt.

Blue Bonnets
Blue Bonnets  Blue Bonnets 

This dance portrays young women flirting with the Blue Bonnets, a slang term for the Regimental Scotsman, in reference to the blue hats they wore. The Jacobite troops had no formal uniform, so their emblem became a white cockade on a blue bonnet. Legend has it that this originated when Bonnie Prince Charlie picked a wild rose and pinned it to his hat. The words to the tune were written by Sir Walter Scott.

The Scottish Lilt
The Scottish Lilt  The Scottish Lilt 

This graceful National Dance was invented for female competitors at the Aboyne Highland Games, which to this day prohibits female competitors from wearing the kilt. Now danced to the "Battle of the Somme," it is a combination of the Highland and Ballet forms of dance.

The Hielan Laddie

Always danced to the famous tune of the same name, this dance originated with soldiers during the First World War. Unlike most national dances, which are usually danced in an Aboyne dress, the Hielan Laddie is performed in the standard kilt-based outfit.

The Village Maid

Of all the National dances, the Village Maid is the most heavily influenced by ballet. It is unusual in that it involves very little hopping, and requires the dancer to stepon the flat foot - most other National and Highland dances employ a significant amount of hopping and are done on the ball of the foot

The Sword Dance
The Sword Dance  The Sword Dance 

The Gillie Callum has its roots in ancient battles. Instituted in 1054 by Malcolm Canmore, King of Scotland, the dance became a ritual for warriors prior to battle. Performed over a crossed pair of swords, the dance included an element of fortune-telling: if the warrior touched the swords while dancing, it was believed that he would be wounded in the ensuing battle. If he kicked them apart, he would surely die.

Flora MacDonald's Fancy
Flora MacDonald's Fancy  Flora MacDonald's Fancy 

This dance is performed in honour of Flora MacDonald, who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape to the Isle of Skye following the massacre at Culloden in 1746. Disguising him as her maid, Betty Burke, Flora was able to see to it that the Prince escaped safely to France. Legend has it that Flora fell in love with Prince Charlie, and she danced this dance for him high on a hill as his boat set off for France.

Pas de Basques and Highcuts
Pas de Basques  Pas de Basques 

This is one of the first dances students learn. It involves the first step of the Sword Dance.

The Sailor's Hornpipe
The Sailor's Hornpipe  The Sailor's Hornpipe 

Watch this favourite character dance closely, and you will see the sailors perform daily tasks such as climbing ladders, coiling rope, hauling cables, and standing on lookout duty.

The Highland Fling
The Highland Fling  The Highland Fling 

This was traditionally a victory dance warriors and clansmen performed on their small round shields, called the targe. Most targes came equipped with a sharp six-inch spike protruding from the centre, so a careless step could be a bit painful! It's easy to see how much dexterity a dancer needs to perform this properly.

The Irish Jig
The Irish Jig  The Irish Jig 

The Irish Jig is a character dance that tells the story of a Irish washerwoman who, in a rage, chases children through the village after they’ve pulled her laundry from the clothesline, dirtying and muddying her linens and clothes after she’d spent the entire morning at work. The jig parodies Irish dancing with similar leg movements and hard shoes as the dancer chases the children, flounces her skirt, shakes her fists, and stomps her feet.


This dance developed on the plantations of the southern United States in the nineteenth century during the days of slavery. Actor and former slave Leigh Whipple described the dance in 1901: "Us slave watched white folks' parties where the guests danced a minuet and then paraded in a grand march, with the ladies and gentlemen going different ways and then meeting again, arm in arm, and marching down the center together. Then we'd do it too, but we used to mock 'em every step. Sometimes the white folks noticed it, but they seemed to like it; I guess they thought we couldn't dance any better." 1

The dance became enormously popular in minstrel shows after a performance was featured at the 1876 Centennial celebration in Philadelphia. The famous Highland dancer, judge, and examiner James L. McKenzie was so enthralled with the cakewalk when he watched it during a trip to the United States around the turn of the century that he brought it back to Scotland with him, where its fame spread throughout the Highland dance community. Today the Cakewalk mimics the pomposity of a promenading aristocratic couple, and, unlike other Highland dances, features inventive costumes and themes.

Wilt Thou Go to the Barracks Johnnie?

A national dance, "Wilt Thou Go to the Barracks" originally served as a recruitment dance for the Scottish Army. Recruiting officer would use dancers to attract people to the recruiting station, or use the dancer for entertainment while stationed in a village. The movements of the dance represented the strength, agility, and determination a soldier would earn while undergoing military training. "Barracks" is commonly danced to the pipe march, "The Barren rocks of Aden" or "Braes o' Mar." Unlike most national dances, which are usually performed in an Aboyne dress, "Barracks" is danced in the standard kilt-based outfit.

Reel of Tulloch

Performed to the tune of the same name, the Reel of Tulloch is named for the village of Tulloch in the Dingwall area of the northern Highlands. According to legend, this group dance is supposed to have originated in the churchyard, where, on a cold winter’s Sunday, the minister was late for the service. The parishioners were locked out of the church and, in an attempt to keep warm as they waited, clapped their hands and stamped their feet. A second, more gruesome legend of the origins of the dance derives from a violent game of football in which the villagers of Tulloch used the severed head of an enemy as the ball. (The Gaelic lyrics to the tune bear out the second version of the story.)

  1. Baldwin, B. "The Cakewalk: A study in stereotype and reality." Journal of Social History. 15.2 (1981). 208
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