I’ve mentioned before that, during my misspent youth, I played the bagpipes in a pipe and drum band for several years. We were a competition band, and the bulk of our time was spent preparing for competitions, playing in competitions at Highland games, and listening to tapes of us and other bands from competitions, often in the car after the competitions, while our irascible pipe major grumbled about how lousy our tone was and how we all needed new chanter reeds, and who the hell has the drone that’s roaring?
The pipe band competition at these Highland Games wouldn’t be until the afternoon, so we would have time to wander around and see all the stuff that was going on, usually ending up with watching the Highland dancing. As the most famous of the Highland dances is the Highland fling, that would take up the bulk of the morning, at levels from Baby (kids under seven) through Senior (generally kids older than sixteen who had been dancing for years). I was at one Highland Games with a friend of mine, and they announced that the “baby fling” was starting in five minutes. We wanted to know if that was dancing or an athletic event.
According to the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing, or SOBHD, there are three levels of difficulty in competition Highland flinging, the four-step, six-step, and eight-step, though most competition is four-step or six-step. It’s a dance that can be done by both men and women, but very few men and boys outside Scotland actually do it, so typically you see a lot of grammar, junior high, and high school girls with their hair pulled up into buns on top of their heads, dressed in kilts, Argyle socks, dancing ghillies (shoes), and doublets jumping around, doing their best to imitate deer frolicking in the forest (one of the legends surrounding the creation of the dance). How well you do depends on whether or not you get the steps right and how well you do at staying in one place (another tradition holds that it was a victory dance, with the winners of a battle dancing on the shield, and sometimes the head, of one of their vanquished foes).
I tried reading the official rules for the Highland fling and decided I’d have an easier time reading Xenophon in the original Attic Greek, so I went out to YouTube and found a few videos of dancing competitions, so you can see it for yourself and figure out what distinguishes a four-step fling from a six-step one. First we have a cute young lass named Kayla Bogner, demonstrating the four-step fling.
Here to demonstrate the six-step fling is Miss Laura Hutchinson.
This is just a small sample of what you can see at a Highland Festival. There is a veritable plethora of videos of girls doing the fling (as well as the sword dance and the Seann Truibhas) on YouTube. Better yet, if you have the opportunity, attend a Highland Games and see it done live. It’s a fun day, even when you’re competing.
Do we have any Highland dancers with us?