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The History Of Highland Dancing


Scottish Warriors invented Highland dancing as a technique to test men's agility, strength, stamina, and accuracy. It was how they exercised and a factor used by old kings in determining which men were combat-ready. Highland dancing comprises not just a series of solo step dancing on their toes but also certain important upper-body, arm, and hand movements.


According to the Australian Board of Highland Dancing, Highland dances necessitate athletic and aesthetic ability. A dancer must spend long hours of practice to be adept enough to dance the complex routines gently and gracefully.


"Highland dancing is a fantastic technique to improve coordination, posture, muscular tone, aerobic capacity, and strength and a dancer's established sense of self-discipline and confidence would help them deal with interviews and presentations later in life,” shares Adams O'Brien of—Australia’s most trusted online health professional.

Fast Track To History

Highland Dancing to Bagpipes was first recorded in 1265 in Jedburgh during Alexander III's second marriage. In 1746, the London government passed an act illegalising wearing kilts and carrying weapons. It ruled out the traditional sword dance and ended most Scottish traditions weakening a sense of patriotism. The resurgence of the Highland Games did not occur until years later, during Queen Victoria's reign.


Scottish folklore and custom featured ritualistic and combative dances mirroring epic acts and martial skills. Created by men, today's competitions consist of 95 per cent females. Women began performing Highland Dancing to preserve the customs and culture alive while the men were fighting in the First World War.


The highland culture was essentially an oral culture, with songs and traditions passed down through the generations. As a result, many myths persist about the origins of the dances, many of which are contradictory. Highland Dancing has grown in popularity in Highland Games globally, notably in Canada, Japan, Scotland, South Africa, Australia, and the United States of America.

Highland Dancing Competitions

There were no competition regulations or standards before 1950, and each competition took place independently. In Stirling, Scotland, the Scottish Highland Dancing Official Board (SOBHD) was established in January 1950 to polish and standardise all dances for equal scoring. A judge must pass a demanding examination on dance rules and regulations to become certified by the SOBHD.


Three main criteria evaluate the dancers: timing, technique, and overall demeanour. While the dancers are on stage, the judge's attention is on their feet. Regardless of other abilities, poor foot placement detracts from the performance. The evaluators also look at hand movements and posture.


Every two years, Australia hosts the Highland Dancing Champion of Champions Championship. The Scottish Dancing Association of Australia (SDAA) hosts exams and competitions. Dancers as young as four compete in traditional Scottish dances such as the Pas De basque, Highland Fling, Sword Dance and as they  progress through the levels other dances are added starting with  Seann Triubhas, and Strathspey & Reel.

Dance Gracefully With Karen McPhillips School of Highland Dancing

Highland dancing fosters self-assurance, bodily awareness, and a strong work ethic. Students develop a sense of balance in their lives as they learn to manage time to keep commitments in dance and school. Teamwork and team spirit develop lifelong friendships.


Karen McPhillips School of Highland Dancing teaches Highland dancing while boosting self-esteem and confidence. The school trained boys and girls from age three in the Sydney districts of Penshurst and Bankstown, NSW, Australia, for more than 39 years. Enrol now!

For more information, contact, a top highland dancing school in Australia since 1983.

Highland vs Irish Dance

According to Cambridge Academic Press, there are significant contrasts between Irish step- dancing events today and those dances contested in the late nineteenth century. It is the transition from cultural representation to personal aesthetics and how various forces brought about this change, both within the genre itself and from the more prominent social standing of Irish immigrants in Australia.

"Although there are some similarities between Scottish and Irish dancing, what truly distinguishes these two beautiful forms of dance is what sets them apart," says dance instructor Lachman Barrett of Poses.

Scottish Highland and Irish dances may appear highly similar to those unfamiliar. But, like the cultures of these beautiful areas, their dancing and the tradition that goes with it are distinct. Each

style has its unique characteristics and history. Today, these types of dancing are often confused. Learn more about them below.

Highland Dance

Highland dance is a style of competitive solo dancing developed in the Scottish Highlands in the 19th and 20th centuries in competitions, ordination demonstrations, and performances.

It does not involve spinning, but it involves leaping in some dances. However, it does require strength and stamina due to its fast pace. It also requires that dancers hold their arms higher than most other dances. Historically, men first started the Highland Dance, but later, women joined them, leading to two types: one for men and another for women. Now, everyone does the same dance.

A common misconception is that all Highland dances are based on traditional dances performed by Scottish Highlanders during the 19th century, but this is not true: many modern highland variations have been created since then—such as those danced to electronica or rock music— and they do not necessarily refer back to earlier eras of Gaelic culture.

Irish Dance

In the early 19th century, the Scots began to develop their dances and forms of entertainment. One such dance was the Highlanders' Reel, the Scotch reel. Irish dancing is a type of folk dance originating in Ireland. This dance was later adopted by the Irish and has since become part of Irish culture. The Irish dance is characterised by its use and coordination of the upper and lower body. The dancers' feet are placed apart, and their knees are bent. The arms are high above the head, and the hands are open and facing outward.

Irish dance was formalised for competition at the end of the nineteenth century in Ireland among the upper classes, who saw it as a way to make it distinct from traditional steps used by the rural poor. The Irish National Dance Society was formed in 1892, and through competitions, championships, and other events, it helped to spread Irish dance throughout Ireland and eventually worldwide. Highland dances are done for competition and as a form of social entertainment.

Learn More About These Styles With Karen McPhillips School

of Highland Dancing

Learn More about these styles with Karen McPhillips School of Highland Dancing

If a viewer is aware of the dance's history, the subtleties to look out for, and how the dancers are evaluated on their performance, watching dancing will be much more pleasurable. They dance socially and competitively and call for athletic and creative talent. Perhaps the most significant difference between the two forms of dance is that while Highland dance was primarily developed in Scotland, Irish dance is a form of social dancing which originated in Ireland.

Karen McPhillips School of Highland Dancing is a premier highland dancing school in Australia and has taught dance while enhancing students' confidence and self-esteem since 1983. We are committed to increasing the potential and capacities of every student.

Contact us at for further details, or you can visit us and send a message with your questions using the contact form.

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