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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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Legend has it that the initial Gillie Callum, more commonly known as the Sword Dance, was created by Malcolm Canmore, a Celtic Prince who fought a battle in 1054. Triumphant, he 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 an omen symbolizing injury or death in battle.

We no longer have to worry about going into battle, but the dance links us to those soldiers. Highland dancing has been handed down to us as a proud tradition that we continue to celebrate today. Originally, only men performed and competed in the dances, but now men and women compete as equals. The strength and agility once necessary for victory in battle will now bring medals and trophies.

We hope you enjoy this video of a group of talented male dancers performing the Sword Dance. Watch their strength showcasing the tradition that unites highland dancers worldwide.

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video by Christine Newton, danced by Kaitlin Krebs (Irish) and Simone Gringas (Scottish) at the 2009 Monterey Scottish Games & Celtic Festival

What’s that you do? Riverdance? Many of you might’ve been asked that question at one time or another and tried to explain your art form and what makes it unique. Or you may just be curious yourself about highland dancing’s trendy cousin, Irish dancing. See for yourself the differences in this entertaining video that playfully pits the Irish version against the Scottish version of the Jig. Let us know what you love about highland dance in the comments, or if you’ve done Irish dance too, your favorite aspects of each.


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

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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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featuring highland dancers from across New England

video by Charlotte Pierce

If you happened to be visiting Faneuil Hall Marketplace in downtown Boston on August 13th, you might’ve heard the sound of bagpipes filling the air. Two bagpipers marched along followed by two dancers, stopping in front of Quincy Market. As the show started, more and more dancers joined in the flash mob, until nearly 30 dancers filled the courtyard with a sea of plaid. Some wore plaid shorts, vests, blouses; all with smiles and a great impromptu display of dancing.

Later that afternoon, the flash mob made a second appearance at Boston’s Public Garden:

video by ACTVAuburn

Dancing alongside the famous swan boats and manicured gardens, they entertained locals and tourists alike. Highland dancers from all over New England participated in the flash mob, traveling from as far away as New Hampshire and Connecticut. We hope you enjoy this video as much as we do!


If you have a video 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.

by Jo Kalat, Teacher and Adjudicator, Cary, NC

 Ah – September.  The students return to school and dancers back to the classroom.  It’s great to see the happy faces again and I begin to think forward to the long winter and what we hope to accomplish.  I have my own goals for my students, but I have learned that it is important to help the students identify their own goals.  It motivates them to work harder and sometimes I have learned that their goals for themselves are not what I thought they were.

Highland dancing is such a wonderful activity for teaching young people (and even adults) to set goals and to strive for excellence.  We aren’t born wanting to work hard, sweat and get tired. We learn to do it so we can accomplish things of which we can be proud. We have to identity those things that are important to us to be able to push ourselves to greater heights.  Goals direct our attention and effort to goal related activities.  They energize us and give our actions purpose.

Every year in September, I go through a goal setting exercise with my students.   It seems obvious what our goals are.  We all want to get better and win trophies – right?  Not so fast. Here are a few important things about goals we need to understand.

A goal needs to be:

  • High enough to be worthy of our effort and also attainable.   High goals lead to greater effort than low goals.  Yet, none of us will work towards something we believe to be impossible.
  • Specific and measurable.  Just saying I want to improve will not motivate us.  We need to establish a goal that we can know that we have achieved. For example, we might say I want to be able to do 16 backsteps with my leg sliding down the back as approved by my teacher.  Or I want to be able to perform the Barracks Johnnie.
  • Goals should be stated in the positive. (I will consistently place my right foot in second position with toe and heel in line with supporting foot rather than I will not sickle my point.)
  • Goals should be performance oriented, not outcome oriented and as fully in your control as possible.  (i.e. a good goal might be to be able to do 16 hi-cuts fully stretched and get double beats on each one.  Winning a trophy, while exciting, is not a goal that is fully in your control.)
  • Goals should be written down! We are much more likely to achieve a goal that we have announced publicly and made a commitment to.  This step is crucial to success.

I always ask my students to make short term, medium term and long term goals.  For instance a six month goal might be to learn a new step.  A 1 year goal might be to increase fitness as shown by the ability to complete a six step fling, ending as strongly as started.  A 5 five year goal might be to complete a professional exam.

So now what?

Once you have made your goals, I believe it is also important to make a plan to achieve this goal.  Your plan also needs to be specific.  Let’s say your goal is to be able to do shedding with your knee turned out at a 90 degree angle from the line of direction.  Your plan might include doing 12 reps of a particular turn out exercise 3 times a week and certain stretching exercises so many times a week.

Create a team

I ask my students to create a team of people who will help them accomplish their goals.  It might be their teacher. Their parents might remind them to practice.  A good friend might provide encouragement.  But we all need people to keep us moving forward towards our goals.


Once we have set our goals and made our plans, it is important to periodically evaluate how we are progressing.  If after working on our plan for 2 months, we aren’t making progress towards our goal, then we need to revise the plan.  The goal is still attainable; we just need a new method.


Let’s not forget the rewards.  We all work a little harder for an extra reward.  It may be only ice cream on Friday if you do all your practices or it maybe that Mom and Dad can help out by offering a dance trip if you accomplish your goals.  We all know the real reward is the sense of pride in ourselves and our accomplishments. But ice cream can help too!


featuring Ashley, Missy, and Amanda Gentry from Kentucky

The Gentry family from Kentucky has been deeply involved with highland dance for many years as dancers, teachers, and competition organizers in nearby Cincinnati, Ohio and across the United States. We caught up with them at the 2011 Grandfather Mountain Highland Games to ask about their experiences as a highland dance family. They share how traveling to Scottish games brought them closer together as a family, gave them opportunities to travel, and enriched their lives.


If you have a video 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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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.

Choeographed and performed by the Jo Kalat School of Scottish Dance in Cary, NC

Rhythm of the Dancer was originally put together over ten years ago by senior premier dancers at Jo Kalat’s studio. It was my senior year of high school and I remember spending hours at home coming up with a small section to present to my friends at our weekly choreography class. We debated each and every detail, creating a finished piece we were all proud to be a part of. Each of the original dancers contributed parts, overseen by our dance teacher. Several of the moms collaborated to sew the beautiful costumes and it was debuted at the Loch Norman Highland Games in the spring of 2000. After all our hard work, we won the group choreography competition!

Years later, this version was featured in the concert ‘Rhythms of Scotland,’ performed in North Carolina. The group of dancers includes several of the original cast with a number of talented younger dancers taking over the places of those who have moved away to college, careers, and teaching. Looking back over ten years later, more than half of the original group is still actively involved in the highland dance community as dancers and teachers, me included. We’re now spread across at least 7 states in the Southeastern, Eastern, and Northwestern regions and Scotland.

It was my favorite choreography as a dancer and is still one of my favorites to watch. I hope you enjoy it too!

~Carolyn Buractaon


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.

Performed by premier dancers at the 2011 Marguerite Reid Memorial Highland Dancing Workshop in King of Prussia, PA

All premier dancers who arrived at the Marguerite Reid Memorial Highland Dancing Workshop on Friday were invited to take part in this group Strathspey & Half Tulloch, coordinated by several Eastern Region teachers. Many chose to take part in this striking group performance; we hope you enjoy it!


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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