Currently viewing the tag: "beginners"

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 …


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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