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By Sheila Reynolds
Surrey North Delta Leader
June 04, 2010


It was a dance done by athletic, strong men, either to celebrate a battle well-fought or to display strength and agility prior to combat. In fact, kings and chiefs would choose the best men based on their performance at Highland Games and Scottish military regiments used to use Highland dancing as a form of training to develop dexterity and endurance.

The style begins with a bow and ends with a bow, and in between, involves straight-backed dancers leaping in the air, often with arms overhead – sometimes over crossed swords. It’s an aerobic workout requiring plenty of stamina.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that a young woman requested to enter a Highland competition. She was allowed, and during the World Wars, while the men were off fighting, more and more ladies began dancing to preserve the culture and history.

Today, the dance style is dominated by females. About 95 per cent of Highland dancers are now girls and women.

At Shannon’s School of Highland Dance in Surrey, however, the percentage of boys is a little higher than average. Thanks to the Warcup family and their offspring, three of the 23 dancers at the school are male – Dillon-James Warcup, 11, Nicolas Scott, 8, and five-year-old Raistlin Warcup.

Instructor Shannon Cressey admits it would be nice for the boys to have more male classmates, but also points out young men can be very good at the Highland form. “The males have the potential to be so much better than the females because of their strength,” she says.

Dillon-James competes at the novice level, while Nicolas is in his second year of training and a beginner-level competitor. Raistlin started dancing in the fall and “debuted” in his first contest last month.

The trio will be among hundreds of dancers competing at the Sons of Scotland 21st Annual Highland Dance Competition next weekend in North Delta. The event will feature dancers of various levels from the Pacific Northwest, but the dance rivalry doesn’t phase Nicolas. “I like going to competition,” he says. “I don’t get scared.”

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Types of Highland dance

Highland Fling

Likely the oldest of the traditional dances of Scotland, the Highland Fling signifies victory following a battle. Warriors made this dance a feat of strength and agility by dancing on their upturned shields which had a sharp spike protruding from the center. Dancers learned early to move with great skill and dexterity. Others say the Highland Fling was inspired by a boy who saw of a deer prancing on a hillside and when he couldn’t find the words to describe it, demonstrated it in dance. The upraised arms and hands in the dance represent the deer’s antlers.

Sword Dance (Gillie Callum)

Legend has it that the initial Gillie Callum was created by Malcolm Canmore, a Celtic Prince who in triumph, crossed his opponent’s sword with his own and danced over them celebrating his victory. It is also said that the warriors danced the Sword Dance prior to battle. If the warrior touched the swords, it was considered bad luck, symbolizing injury or death. Today, a competitive dancer loses points or is disqualified for touching his swords.

Seann Triubhas (Old Trousers)

This dance originated as a political protest dating back to 1745 when the wearing of the kilt was an act of treason. Pronounced “shawn trews”, the Gaelic phrase means “old trousers”. The beautiful, graceful steps reflect the restrictions imposed by the foreign trousers. The liveliness of the dance recreates the Highlanders’ celebration of freedom.

The Reels

The Reel O’Tulloch is said to have started in a churchyard on a cold winter morning when the minister was late for his service. The parishioners kept warm by stamping their feet, clapping their hands and swinging each other by the arms.


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