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A glimpse of the culture of Scottish Highland Dancing and FUSTA’s USA Scottish Highland Dancing. This public service announcement features the Thistle and Heather Highland Dancers of Chicagoland, under the direction of Nancy Strolle. The piper featured is Ben Peterson. Music is “Alien Ceilidh” by Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas.

Visit the following sites for more information: – USA Scottish Highland Dancing – to find a teacher – for more great music


The Federation of United States Teachers and Adjudicators (FUSTA) was established in 1980 to promote Scottish Highland Dancing and culture in the United States and to provide a community system for teachers and judges of Highland dancing.

This video is brought to you by Tribeca Flashpoint Academy.

Directed by Jonathan Vaughn
Produced by Ryan Forkin
Cinematography by Emily Feller
Edited by Molly O’Callaghan
Assistant Editing by Eli Cantu
Production Assisted by Jordan Miller and Jeff Wisniewski


Part 1:  by Nancy Kimsey

 Congratulations!  Your Highland dancer is now ready to perform or compete.  This article is designed to give the basics you need to know when outfitting your dancer. Notes for male dancers will be at the end.  This link will take you to a copy of the official dress code:

  1. Plan ahead so that you can buy good used costumes as they become available.   Some places to find these are at workshops, competitions, or websites such as  Good costumes do not necessarily have to cost a fortune, and in Highland Dance, costumes retain their value and do not change much with fashion trends.   Talk to the experienced dance moms in your studio for advice on costume details.
  2. The primary dancer only needs the kilt outfit.  You will see some primary dancers wearing complete outfits with tartan socks and a vest or jacket; however this is not necessary.  Primaries may wear a costume as simple as a white shirt , solid white knee socks, dance briefs, ghillies, and a kilt or kiltie in any tartan.  The kiltie has less fabric and the pleats are more shallow, so there will be less “swing”, but the cost is less. Hair should be in a bun, French braid, or in the case of very short hair, just pinned away from the face.  Hair spray is your friend!  If you make or purchase a highland vest, it should be from 100% cotton velvet or velveteen.  Shiny velvets crush and just don’t work out.  The highland vest has points in front, at the hips and one in the back.  Silver or gold braid and up to 5 pairs of diamond shaped silver or gold buttons complete the vest. (Braid and buttons may be purchased from highland suppliers).
  3. Ghillies should fit snugly in order to show off the dancer’s point and should be properly tied to prevent loose laces during the dance.  Many dancers use an older pair for practice and a nicer pair for competitions.  If your dancer has tartan socks, always check to see that the diamonds are lined up straight.  Dancers wear bands of elastic under the fold-over part of the socks so the socks will stay up.  Dance briefs should be black or a dark color that matches the kilt.  Cheerleader briefs work well. Hem the kilt to just at the knee.  Suspenders should be worn to keep the kilt hanging straight.  These may be purchased used at formal wear shops or found in the boys’ section of some department stores.  The main impression should be of neatness and confidence.
  4. Beginners (and novice level dancers) will need the kilt outfit for the fling, sword, Sean Truibhas, and Reel, and will wear the aboyne outfit (sometimes referred to as the national outfit or an arasaid) for the Lilt and Flora.  The rules for the beginner and novice kilt outfit are the same as for primaries; however most beginners do purchase a vest and white blouse with elbow length sleeves and a lace or eyelet front insert (not lace sleeves, however.)   Some dancers have vests with white sleeves sewn into the vest and then wear a lace or eyelet “dickie” that is pinned or sewn onto a camisole or sports bra.


Kilt or kiltie for beginners?  If you can purchase a used kilt of good quality, it usually retains its value well when your dancer outgrows it, and it will swing better.  Vest or jacket?  Unless your beginner has stopped growing, the vest will last much longer and be much less expensive.  Jackets are difficult to resell and are outgrown quickly because they must fit “just so”.  Family tartan?  Many dancers do not choose family tartans for their kilt if the tartan is dark.  They might decide to use a family tartan for the pladdie of the national outfit (if a white dress/type A is selected) or to incorporate their family tartan into a choreography costume later in their dance career.   What color and tartan to choose?  Select vest colors that complement your child’s skin tone. Do not select a vest color that is a very minor part of the tartan. Choose a tartan that looks crisp and bright, and most importantly, makes your child feel happy and confident!  Go to some competitions and watch the older dancers, looking for a tartan that catches your eye and your heart.  A good place to see pictures of tartans grouped by colors is http:/


The national outfit can be one of two types:  (A) a white dress with just above the elbow length sleeves and a tartan plaiddie (square or rectangular shawl) attached on the right shoulder with a brooch or (B) a white underdress, (or blouse and petticoat), gathered skirt in a true tartan or simply a bright, even plaid (not madras), the skirt being at least 3 yards in circumference for fullness, a velvet petal vest that ties in front with a ribbon or a cord made of tartan, and a matching pladdie and brooch as in “A”.   The plaiddie is attached at the right shoulder with a brooch and then pinned up under the waist, usually pinned to the underside of the vest.  The plaiddie should be fringed on all sides for about an inch.  A few extra hidden pins under the right shoulder and back of the vest are also helpful.

 If you choose “A”, select a white fabric that is substantial enough to prevent see-through without being too hot.

If you choose “B”, the underdress should be made from a cotton/poly blend for wash and wear ease and may have a cotton eyelet trim at the hem only.  The fabric of the gathered skirt and plaiddie can be a true tartan in wool (lovely but also thicker around the waist) or a cotton blend; it helps to have a bit of weight to the fabric as a very thin cotton won’t hang well.  No shiny plaid fabrics, no plaids cut on the diagonal, and no circle skirts!  A decent size hem will not only make the skirt hang better but will also help it to fit longer.

Buttons on the petal vest do not have to be the “official” diamond shaped buttons,  but it is nice to have buttons with a Celtic knot, thistle,etc.  The ribbon can go through hook and eyes, grommets, or just wrap around the buttons (although when wrapped they may come loose).  Plain white dance briefs and plain white ankle socks, plain white knee socks, or flesh colored stockings (for older girls) complete the national outfit.  Hair can be in a bun, French braid, etc.  Although you will see dancers with their hair down or “half up-half down” at performances, for competitions, it is more tidy to keep the hair secured.  Do not wear a scrunchie over the bun.

Primary and Beginner male dancers need a kilt, white shirt, optional vest and/or jacket, or tie if no vest or jacket is worn,  small sporran (leather or with metal top) , socks, and ghillies.  Tartan trews may be worn for the national dances if desired.  If a hat is desired, it should be a Balmoral with appropriate crest and/or badge.  Male dancers need dark underwear/shorts of some type.  Male dancers also have the option to wear garter flashes on the socks.

You will be filled with joy and pride when your dancer appears on stage properly costumed:  looking confident, colorful , and crisp!

To be continued for intermediate and premier dance costumes in Part 2 …


photo of Highland Extension Site

Interactive flash card on Highland Extension

I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and to suggest making a New Year’s resolution of taking a highland theory exam this year!

Theory exams allow dancers to learn the meaning of Scottish Highland technical terms and ways of verbally describing them. One great way to study for theory exams is to use the highland theory website: This website helps dancers study for BATD theory exams using interactive flashcards. The flashcards are broken down into the different examination grade levels one through elementary so dancers are only studying what is required of them for the exam they are taking. The website is built to be a study aid to be used in addition to studying with a teacher and the SOBHD highland textbook.


Studying for theory exams can be challenging. It is important to study ahead of time and to set study goals. You can fit studying in wherever you are: the school bus, the ride to dance class, or even during TV commercial breaks! Studying for and completing highland theory exams give dancers a stronger knowledge of basic positions and movements. It is my hope that the website will allow more dancers to consider theory exams and possibly a professional exam to continue their highland career past their competing years.


Happy dancing and good luck on your theory exams this year!

- Megan Ashworth

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by Nancy Strolle

It’s September and another school year is beginning, as well as another year of dance lessons. New students are just beginning to settle into learning their pas de basques, sheddings, hops, and springs. We know highland dancers are dedicated, but they like to have fun too. Here are a few games that can be used in class; they can be enjoyed by new and experienced dancers alike!

1. Highland Hopscotch

In each square, the dancer must do the specified movement. Use these suggestions or come up with your own!

Hop 4 times in 1 on two feet

4 highcuts in 2

4 spring points in 3

PDB right in 4

PDB left in 5

Assemble and change in 6

1 shedding right foot in 7

1 shedding left foot in 8

4 toe heels in 9

Take a bow in 10 “sky”


2. “Have You Ever Seen a Lassie/Laddie?”

Gather in a circle with one dancer in the middle. During the verse, the circle spins around the dancer. Once the verse is done, the dancer must perform a dance movement. Then the entire circle imitates the movement, a new dancer is chosen, and another verse is begun. Sung to the tune of “The More We Get Together…The Happier We’ll Be”.

Have you ever seen a lassie,
A lassie, a lassie?
Have you ever seen a lassie,
Go this way and that?
Go this way and that way,
Go this way and that way.
Have you ever seen a lassie,
Go this way and that?
Have you ever seen a laddie,
A laddie, a laddie?
Have you ever seen a laddie,
Go this way and that?
Go this way and that way,
Go this way and that way.
Have you ever seen a laddie,
Go this way and that?


3. “The Scotsman in the Dell…”

Gather in a circle with one dancer chosen as the “Scotsman”. The dancer must close his/her eyes as the circle spins, then stops at the end of the verse. Without peeking, the dancer points to the “wifie” who joins the middle of the circle as the game continues. There must be the same number of verses as players. The “haggis” becomes the next “Scotsman” if playing multiple rounds.

Sung to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell”

“The Scotsman in the Dell”……

Takes a “wifie”

Takes a “bairn” (or several)

Takes the “coo” (or several)

Takes a “scottie” (or several)

Takes the “haggis”

The “haggis” stands alone


 4. Flora MacDonald Says

Same rules as Simon Says, except partcipants must do only what Flora MacDonald says to do.

5. Dance Teacher, May I?

Dancers are each given a highland movement to perform along with a number of steps they can take if successful (ie. “Charlie, dance 2 sheddings with your left foot then take 2 giant steps forward”). The first one to reach the teacher across the room wins, and becomes the new “dance teacher”.


What dance games do you enjoy? Share them with us in the comments.

by Charlotte Pierce, current dance mom

“Mom, I am going to pick the tartan for my next kilt myself. It’s MY decision, and I am going to do it.”

– LILLIAN, age 11 (and choose she did – Dress Blue Buchanan.)

Clearly, our daughter has taken ownership of her Scottish dancing – it is no longer an activity that we as “dance parents” schlep her to every week “for her own good.” We think Lillian’s attitude came together through a combination of factors, including: getting her to classes at a young age when we could still have some influence; enabling her to take classes with her best friend; qualified teachers sensitive to her talents and developmental needs; and the unique qualities of the Highland community and the enduring friendships she’s made along the way.

Still, pursuing Scottish dancing never occurred to any of us growing up. It wasn’t until my friend Laurie, the mother of Lillian’s best friend Anna, found our first Highland teacher from a flyer posted at the local ice cream shop. As dance moms, both of us were ready to move on from kiddie-ballet mega-recitals to an artistic, physical activity that would be both local and meaningful, and we made the call. Before we knew it, we had ordered FUSTA cards and registered the girls for their first competition. Little did we know that six years later, we’d be traveling to dance classes two hours away in Connecticut and competitions across the country – but that’s another story!

It’s always interesting to hear how families got involved in highland dancing. Some merged into it naturally as the daughters or sons of bagpipers or renowned Scottish dancers like Marguerite Reid and Jeannie Brauns. For our family, Scottish heritage on both sides of the family influenced our choice; my husband has Kerrs on his side, and my mother has always kept a strong connection to her MacNeil of Barra and Colquhoun (Cowan) roots. And then, there’s that Braveheart thing!

What are the reasons children and adults first get involved in Scottish dancing?
  • Expression of Scottish heritage
  • Friends or family already involved
  • Combination of athletic training and artistic expression
  • Strong Scottish cultural representation in community
  • A “different” kind of dance for boys as well as girls
  • Historical roots and traditions
  • Closest available dance class
  • Accidental discovery at a local event or community advertisement


How about your family, how did you first get involved in Scottish highland dance?

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Danced by the Dallas Highland Dancers 2010-2011 Primary Class in Dallas, TX

These dancers all range in age from 5-6 years old. This particular video was taken at the Scottish Society of Dallas’ Tartan Day Ceilidh in April 2011. The Tartan Day Ceilidh is a free event open to the public each year in central Dallas and we are featured performers. It is a great way for members of the society (who are mostly older adults) to see how our dancers (ranging in age from 4 to mid-60s, currently) are progressing and keeping Highland dancing alive in North Texas.

The second video we use at performances where we can set up an informational booth. It highlights our beginner dancers’ journey:

We often wear DHD polo shirts (blue for adults, red for children) at our area performances as they add a sense of visual unity between the dancers on stage. It’s also a nice way for the public to identify the dancers as part of the DHD at larger festivals so they can engage in conversation, if desired, following our performances. A large percentage of our new dancers every year come from folks who have seen us perform at the approximately 20 performances we do per year.

Our Primary class was HUGE during the 2010-11 school year – 9 students ranging in age from 4 to 6, including 2 sets of sisters and my own son (yes, I am a proud mama!). 6 of these students chose to join our competition program this year, which meant that their weekly commitment went from 1 hour of instruction to 3 hours, including our competition class. These are some dedicated young ladies and gentleman (and their parents, of course!)! During competition class, they have the opportunity to practice performing their dances as if they are competing, as well as watching the older dancers do the same – we have found it’s wonderful modeling for the little ones and really builds a strong camaraderie between all of our competition dancers, regardless of age or competitive level.

~Emily Murer, Dallas Highland Dancers Instructor

For more information or to find a teacher in your area, please contact us at!


If you have a video of a choreography or performance you would like to see featured here, email it to along with the name of your school and your location, and optionally an explanation of its significance to you.

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