COMPETITION DANCES - THE HISTORY
With so many versions of the history of Highland Dances being given
on the web I feel it reasonable to present an alternative to the
"shortbread tin, and Brig O'Doon" type stories of Scottish
warriors hopping about on spiked shields, shaking off
trousers and doing some fairly unlikely things
before going into battle. The links offer
a brief history and back ground to
dances, as far as they have
been researched, with
suggestions for
additional
reading.
Highland Fling       The Sword Dance       Seann Triubhas

   Strathspey - Highland Reel - Reel O'Tulloch  

    Sailor's Hornpipe         Irish Jig               Cake Walk          

The last three dances above may seem rather incongruous as Scottish Competition dances since they originate from the theatre where they all had some degree of popularity. It should be remembered that Highland Dance was taught by Dance Teachers who would have covered Ballet, Stage, Ballroom and Highland Dance.


The histories and comments on the above dances are not solely my work and my unreserved thanks go to the researchers, collectors and authors who have made it possible to provide the basis for much of the contents. Sources for further reading  will be given on each appropriate page.

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THE IRISH JIG


The Irish Jig, as portrayed at Scottish Highland Dance Competitions, originates from a stage presentation and versions of the dance were taught in England, particularly the north, as well as Scotland.

Interestingly the dance has maintained separate characteristics for the sexes both for costume and actions. What the dance is representing seems to depend on the sex of the dancer and on reference point in history. Either way the character of the dance is taunting, threatening, full of fire and fight, and at times violence.

For the female it is said to represent an Irish wife who is angry with her erring husband who has come home late from the pub, having squandered his pay packet or, an Irish washerwoman who is angry because the neighbourhood children have soiled her laundry drying on the line.

For the male dancer, complete with Shillelagh and hat, the dance is said to be a taunting invitation to a fight with the shaking of the coat tails or, even more seriously, a remonstration against the "Black and Tan" soldiers of the 1920s with symbolic overtones of threats of violence.

The Donnybrook Step, full of aggression and fight, is said to depict the infamous Donnybrook Fair. Established in 1204 by Royal Charter of King John, the Fair flourished for five centuries, ultimately running for fifteen days in August, and then degenerated into a wild and reckless gathering. In 1850 the Fair was closed down after serious efforts made by the local clergy, the Archbishop, the Lord Mayor and a residents committee.

D. G. MacLennan, in his book "Highland and Traditional Scottish Dances"- 1952, says of The Irish Jig -

"I much regret to state that I have a very poor opinion of the Irish Jig, which passes under that name in Scotland. It seems to get worse during the passing of the years. In these days of expert tap dancing, which was originally derived from Hornpipes and Jigs, over half a century ago, it is surprising to find that the style of dancing the Jig is so defective in the execution of the steps. The whole performance is rough and lacking in fine beating"

A small insight into what MacLennan was referring to can be seen some 45 minutes into the film "The Daughter Of Rosie O'Grady" ( US/Dir David Butler 1950 ). Set in the 1890s the film shows just a few bars of the stage origins of this dance. Another, very short, representation comes about halfway through "You Were Never Lovlier" ( US/Dir Larry Parks 1942 ) from Fred Astaire, who dances just two Bars of the First Step.

N.B. FURTHER READING -

Traditional Step-Dancing In Scotland. -
J. F. & T. M. Flett - 1996 - ISBN: 1 898218 45 5
Highland and Traditional Scottish Dances -
D. G. MacLennan - 1952
The Irish Jig - StreetSwing.com -
Sonny Watson

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THE SWORD DANCE
( GHILLIE CALLUM )


Scotland has had an enormous variety of "Sword Dances" including the Elgin Long Sword Dance, Papa Stour and Perth complete with Mummer Plays; the mock battle drama " Dirk Dance"; a handful of Broadsword Dances where two, four or more swords are laid on the ground and are danced around and over by as many dancers, but today the term "Sword Dance" invariably refers to "Ghillie Callum" performed by a solo dancer over two swords, laid as a cross, on the ground.

The fact that the dance progresses the dancer in an anti-clockwise direction ("widdershins" or the way of the witches) around the swords is often cited to support the antiquity of the dance, but the direction of travel as late as 1880 was clockwise. A description of the clockwise dance is given in "Book Of The Club Of The True Highlander",1881. One example of a "clockwise" Step can be found in the form of the Third Step of "The Jacobite Sword Dance" collected by Mrs. M. I. MacNab.

Ghillie Callum is first recorded as a competition dance in 1832 and the first definite reference in print appears in 1804. It would seem that the antiquity is not as great as legend gives credit, certainly not in the format of today.

THE TUNE
The tune Ghillie Callum can be traced back to 1768 and is connected to an old "Kissing Dance" - " Babbity Bowster".

N.B. FURTHER READING -

Traditional Step-Dancing In Scotland. -
J. F. & T. M. Flett - 1996 - ISBN: 1 898218 45 5

Highland and Traditional Scottish Dances -
D. G. MacLennan - 1952

The Sword Dance -
Sonny Watson's - StreetSwing.com - 2001

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THE SEANN TRIUBHAS


The Seann Triubhas originated as Sean Triubhas Willichan (Willie's Auld Trousers ) and was danced to the tune of the same name. It was one of Scotland's humourus, old 'dramatic' dances and known to have been regularly danced at the St.Michael's Day Ball on South Uist, although the dance is considered to have originated in Perthshire.

The dance can be traced back to at least 1745 and the tune even earlier. The many changes to the dance have now altered it beyond recognition - the First Step was the Pas de Basque and the Circle Step (First Step SOBHD) has nothing to do with the idea of kicking off trews, but was devised by D. G. MacLennan.

THE MUSIC
Changes to the music as well as the dance occurred when the dance was accompanied by the pipes. The title tune "Seann Triubhas Willichan" was replaced by the tune of a rather bawdy song "Whistle O'er The Lavot".

N.B. FURTHER READING -

Traditional Step-Dancing In Scotland. -
J. F. & T. M. Flett - 1996 - ISBN: 1 898218 45 5

Highland and Traditional Scottish Dances -
D. G. MacLennan - 1952

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THE STRATHSPEY, HIGHLAND REEL
and
REEL OF TULLOCH


These dances could be considered the genuine Country Dances of Scotland or true Reel. The ubiquitous format of ' Travel and Set ' is clearly demonstrated in all three dances as it is with -

The Axum Reel                                Cath nan Coileach
Ruidhleadh nan Coileach Dubha               The Shepherd's Crook          
The Shetland 4 & 6 Hand Reels        The Threesome Reel (Hankies)  

along with many others. The ' Travel ' aspect of the Dance may be a Reel of 3 or 4, Hands Across, Circle etc. or in the case of The Reel Of Tulloch a Right/Left arm turn.

Whilst 'reeling' as a dance form occurs in writing as early as 1525, the first writen reference to the Dance (Reil) comes around 1583.
 
Of all the myths and legends extant about Highland Dances the story of the parishoners of Tulloch Village, dancing to keep warm outside of the locked Kirk, may well have some basis of fact.

The change of Tempo from Strathspey to Reel used not to be the abrupt change of today, but a gradual increase in the Strathspey Tempo which eventually blossomed into Reel time, a tradition still maintained in Cape Breton music & dance and to a lesser extent by pipe bands.

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THE SAILORS' HORNPIPE.

The dance we see performed at competitions and Highland Games today comes from the character dances performed on stage originating from around 1730, but it would be as well to consider how this came about and start with the word HORNPIPE and all its meanings.

THE HORNPIPE as a musical instrument was similar to a bagpipe chanter. The instrument went out of use towards the end of the 15th century.

THE HORNPIPE in musical terms has altered beyond recognition over the years. Generally considered to have originated in England, possibly the North, and was in 3/2 time. The time signature has altered - 6/4, 9/4, 9/8 and 6/8 to finish today in common time - 4/4. In Scotland it was the Scotch Measure which was the precursor of the modern day Hornpipe.

THE HORNPIPE as a dance originated in Britain, quite possibly England. In Scotland the term originally indicated a High dance or Solo dance, not a Hornpipe as we would recognise it today and nothing to do with sailors. Sailors were encouraged to dance whilst at sea and they did dance Hornpipes (Solos). These would be Hornpipes danced by sailors, but not the Sailors' Hornpipe.

THE SAILORS' HORNPIPE A 'Hornpipe by a gentleman' was performed on the Drury Lane  stage in 1713 and in 1730 a 'Grand Comic Dance Of Sailors' was performed by French dancer Salle at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre. In America John Durang included a Sailor's Hornpipe in his performances during the 1780 -1790s. Hornpipes with added embellishments such as the Fetter Hornpipe and the Cane Hornpipe developed, the latter possibly being the first to show true resemblance to the Sailors' Hornpipe today. Towards the end of the 19th century the 'props' were replaced with mime actions such as 'rope haul', 'look out', etc..  Obviously the English Navy adopted the dance at some point and developed the Steps and the Dance. Many of these Steps were collected by T. P. (Tippy) Cooke, a British actor, and used in a stylised, stage presentation of the Sailors' Hornpipe. In July of 1910, as a result of collecting Steps performed by sailors in competitions she had organised, Miss A. M. Cowper Coles published a leaflet titled 'The Hornpipe' giving 10 different Steps to be danced to 'The College Hornpipe' in 4/4 time.

THE SAILORS' HORNPIPE (Scottish version) is undoubtedly the English Sailors' Hornpipe taken to greater finesse by the Scottish Dancing Teachers with the introduction of Highland Dance technique and movements. By 1893 the Sailors' Hornpipe appeared on the competition boards.

Within my own recall several changes have occurred -
- Male dancers wore genuine Naval uniform - freely available from Government
  Surplace Shops then (Mine came from a shop in Leith Walk, Edinburgh) although
  the Black Scarf and Lanyard were usually omitted.
- Female competitors wore a short, tennis style, white pleated skirt with a Naval
  style top with collar.
- 'Bell Bottom Trousers' have disappeared from the Navy and sadly from the
   Dance which means a loss of character and movement in the Dance.
- The palms of the hands were always regarded as too dirty to
   be in contact with the uniform. Therefore the 'thigh slap' in the Introduction and
   First Step was always done with the back of the hand. The dirty hands are still
   recognised in some arm movements, but the slap always seems to be with the
   palm of the hand today.
- A white handkerchief was secreted in the sleeve and produced for the wave in
   the 'Farewell Step'
- The Highcutting in the Last Step was more complex than the 'Alternate Feet'
  sequence of today (This was reserved for the Reel O'Tulloch).
- The Dance finished with 'Leap, Entrechat, Step, Close'.



N.B. FURTHER READING -

A Handbook Of Traditional Scottish Dance -
George S Emmerson - 1995 - ISBN: 0 9690653 6 1
The Hornpipe -
Miss A M Cowper Coles - 1910 -
The Hornpipe - Papers from a National Early Music Association conference (
From Joan Flett,
                            Pat Tracey, Jeremy Barlow & Madeleine Barlow
) - 20.3.1993 -
The Sailors' Hornpipe -
Stage Dance Council - 1961 -
Traditional Step-Dancing In Scotland. -
J F & T M Flett - 1996 - ISBN: 1 898218 45 5

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THE CAKE WALK

The Chalk Line Walk originated in Florida by the African-America slaves who took the idea from the Seminole Indians - couples walking solemnly - and became popular around 1850. The Breakdown and Walk Around, a Minstrel parody later to be named the Cake Walk, was one of the main sources of the Chalk Line Walk. The "Walkers" would walk a straight line with a bucket of water balanced on their head. The dance evolved to an exaggerated parody of the white, upper class, ballroom figures and would mimic the mannerisms of the masters household with dignified walking, bowing, waving canes, hats and high kicking promenade. Some of the better plantation owners would bake a cake on Sundays, invite the neighbours over and have a contest of slaves dancing, and whoever won got the cake. From this the name "Cakewalk" was set.
By the 1890's the Cakewalk was all-popular and in 1892 the first Cakewalk contest was held in a New York Ballroom. It was the first American dance to cross the black / white divide as well as from the stage to the ballroom. The Cakewalk died out in the 1920's.

WHISTLING RUFUS
The tune most commonly associated with The Cakewalk as performed in Scottish Competitions is "Whistling Rufus". Written in 1899 by Kerry Mills (Frederick A. Mills) who printed the following on the sheet music -
" No Cake Walk given in the Black Belt District of Alabama was considered worthwhile attending unless 'Whistling Rufus' was engaged to furnish the music. Unlike other musicians Rufus always played alone, playing an accompaniment to his whistling on an old guitar, and it was with great pride that he called himself the 'One Man Band' ".


N.B. FURTHER READING -

A Handbook Of Traditional Scottish Dance -
George S Emmerson - 1995 - ISBN: 0 9690653 6 1
Traditional Step-Dancing In Scotland. -
J F & T M Flett - 1996 - ISBN: 1 898218 45 5
Cake Walk -
Sonny Watson's - StreetSwing.com - 2001
The Cakewalk & Whistling Rufus -
Rob DeLand's - Mechanical Music Digest™ Archives - 1997



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THE HIGHLAND FLING

The youngest of all the competition solo Highland dances, the only one not to have a Gaelic title and in the form danced today the poor mongrel which has been cross-bred, inbred, "improved" and distorted to the point that only one Step is in its original format and actually fits the music.

The words "Highland Fling" first appear in print in 1794 and may well refer to a type or style of Step rather than a Dance. The first clear references as a complete Dance occurs in 1824. It was first introduced to dance competitions around 1840.

The modern day Highland Fling takes as its basic foundation "The Marquis Of Huntly's Highland Fling", given in the "Hill Manuscript 1841".

THE MUSIC
The tune "The Marquis Of Huntly's Highland Fling" was composed some time before 1806 by Jenkins. Today competition pipers are advised to play a different Strathspey for each time. However, it matters not which Strathspey is played, it will not fit the dance.

N.B. FURTHER READING -

A Handbook Of Traditional Scottish Dance -
George S Emmerson - 1995 - ISBN: 0 9690653 6 1
Traditional Step-Dancing In Scotland. -
J F & T M Flett - 1996 - ISBN: 1 898218 45 5
The Highland Fling -
Sonny Watson's - StreetSwing.com - 2001



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