What is Highland Dancing?

Scottish dancing is exceedingly popular the world over, and while Country Dancing continues to thrive and spread across the globe, so does another well-liked form of Scottish dance: Highland Dancing.

While the RSCDS focuses mainly on Country Dancing, we also aim to promote and develop related types of Scottish dance, one of which is Highland Dancing (you can find Highland classes at our Summer School). We even hold demonstrations of Highland Dancing, which you can see below.

Highland Dancing
Highland Dancing
Highland Dancing
Dance style

There are a number of similarities in steps and formations found in both Country Dancing and Highland Dancing. Country Dancing crosses into the realms of Highland Dance with the Strathspey and Reels using Highland Steps for setting. Country Dancing also uses the Highland Schottische step, which is used for setting.  

Highland setting steps are used in Country Dances such as Reel of Tulloch, The Eightsome Reel and The Foursome Reel.

The RSCDS teaches Highland because Country Dancing uses setting steps found in Highland and many people wish to learn Highland Dance as it may help them with their positioning and footwork.

When you come across Highland Dancing, the music being played nowadays is the bagpipe, especially at Highland Games. Other music and instrumentation can be used, and originally it would have been mouth music.

Highland Dancing has a long and detailed history and is one of Scotland most cherished dance forms. To learn more about the history of Highland dancing we encourage you to do your own research and get in touch with official organisations who develop and promote Highland dancing.

The Cowal Highland Gathering was held in 1894 and in the 1902 Juvenile Highland Dancing Competition was added. In 1932 the first Juvenile Highland Dancing Championship was held. The first Adult World Championship was held in 1948. Bobby Watson (Aberdeen) won the World Junior Dance Championship in 1926.

The Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing was formed on 15 January 1950 and was held in the Plaza Ballroom, Stirling. Miss Hadden and Mrs Brown, representatives from the Scottish Country Dance Society, were present along with Miss Milligan and Mrs Brown members of the interim committee. Bobby Watson is also mentioned here.

Betty Jessiman was another notable Highland Dancer from the north-east of Scotland.  She performed before Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at Holyrood Palace in 1958 then she toured France as a solo Highland Dancer along with a Scottish Country Dance group. She won the World Championships in 1961.

Highland Dancing is mainly a solo performance with intricate footwork. The main dances you will come across are:

  • Highland Fling
  • Sword Dance
  • Seann Triubhas
  • Strathspey and Reel of Tulloch (dances with 3 other people)
  • Highland Reel

Sign up for the RSCDS eNewsletter

Sign up to:

  • Keep up to date with RSCDS events 
  • Join a worldwide community of Scottish country dance and music

Join an RSCDS Branch & receive member benefits

There are 159 RSCDS Branches and over 300 Affiliated Groups in more than 50 countries around the world, located on all continents (except Antarctica).

They organise and run classes, dances and other social events in their own areas and are committed to helping develop Scottish Dance and Music for future generations.

We encourage you to try Scottish Country Dancing for yourself to see just how much fun it can be, so please come along and learn how to 'Dance Scottish'. 

Wherever you are in the world there is most likely Scottish Country Dancing.

Find my nearest branch

  • © 2024 The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society
  • Registered Charity No. SC 016085
  • Company No. SC 480530
  • 12 Coates Crescent, Edinburgh, EH3 7AF