Highlanders were always fond of dancing. From their chieftain's viewpoint, this was something to be encouraged. The exercise helped his men to be light and nimble on their feet - a decided advantage when crossing stony or boggy ground, either to fight or travel. When Highlanders were cold, dancing was a practical way of keeping warm and when they were drinking whisky, exercise helped to neutralise the potent effect of the spirit. From the viewpoint it was a form of recreation.
Today most – but not all – competitors are female and boys and girls compete in the same events. At Bridge of Allan, Highland Dancing is divided into several sections – Primary (four to six years old), Beginners/Novice age groups to suit entry, Intermediate age groups to suit entry, Premier and Adults. Due to the large number of dancers, competitions begin early (around 10:00am) and continue through much of the day.
Sword Dance – Reputedly organised by King Malcolm Canmore, who crossed his sword over another captured from a defeated enemy then danced over them. If the dancer touches the swords during the performance, he/she is disqualified.
Shean Triubhs – Gaelic for ‘old trousers’. The shaking movement of the leg during this dance is meant to symbolise the shaking off of trousers, which Highlanders were reputed to detest. This is unlikely since trews were common enough prior to the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 and in any event the dance dates from a good deal earlier. It may be, however, that the dance was used to make a mockery of the hated southern dress because there was no love between the Highlands and the Lowlanders.
Highland Fling – Possibly the best known of the Highland Dances. The ‘fling’ is reputed to have originated as a shepherd lad’s imitation of a courting stag on the hill.
Hullachan – A reel for four persons.the Hullachan or Reel of Tulloch supposedly originated in the Inverness-shire village of Tulloch, when the minister was late for the service on the Sabbath and the congregation started dancing to keep warm. Although danced in four, the dancers are judged individually.
Sailors Hornpipe – Danced in the form of naval uniform to simulates the hauling on ropes, manning of the yardman, splicing of the mainbrace and other tasks traditionally performed by seamen under sail.
The Irish Jig – Performed in a stylised red and green outfit. Customarily danced to the tune of ‘Paddy’s leather Breeches’ and ‘The Irish Washerwoman’. The dance symbolises Paddy’s rage at his breeches being shrunk by a washer woman and her spirited defiance at his attack on her competence.
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