Scottish Highland Dancing: Part of the Present and the Past
Dancing is an integral component to most folk customs from around the world. In many cases, traditional dances and their accompanying music developed out of a tradition of story-telling as well as ritualistic performances for certain events. In Scotland, traditional dancing is part of reifying the Scottish character and for maintaining a connection with the past. It has several forms, from social to individual, and can be learned by anyone. It can be seen almost anywhere, from a special event in a Scotland country hotel to a local wedding to the competition at the Highland Games.
The individual form of Scottish dance, also known as Highland Dancing or the ceilidh, today is competitive and highly athletic sport that is dominated by female participants. However, its roots can be traced to the sword dances that would be done before going into battle or after winning one by the combatants in the middle ages. One of the earliest mentions of this ‘war dance’ is from 1285 where the dancers were ‘frenzied’ and weaving in and out of one another. When the English monarchy suppressed Scottish nationalism in the 18th century, many Scottish customs were forced underground for about forty year period. After that, Scottish folk traditions resurged and a romanticized interest in it grew in general. In the 19th century, the Scottish Highland Games were inaugurated to maintain interest in and use of the variety of Scottish traditions and sports, one of which was the Highland Dance form. While it had been traditionally the forte of male dancers, in the early 20th century women began to compete as well. It didn’t take long until it was dominated by a female demographic.
Today one can see the traditional dance performed almost anywhere in Scotland. It can be very traditional or it can be made contemporized with innovative choreography. In any case, whether touring all of Scotland for two weeks just staying at a luxury hotel Glasgow for one night, seeing the dance is an important part of seeing Scottish culture. If feeling brave enough, you can also give it a go too.