When interest in competition Highland Dancing grew with the passing years, instruction became authoritative, and the dancing technique became more defined. Since there were differing ideas on technique and judging, the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing and its traditional and accepted technique of competition came into being.
Competitive dancers today are judged on the prescribed technique of the S.O.B.H.D. The dancers are awarded "points" for appearance, points, the position of the hands and feet, and the execution of the intricate steps. For example, when a dancer raises her leg, bent at the knee, instead of lifting the knee forward or the foot backward, she should raise the knee sideways and keep it well pressed back. In this position the apron of the kilt still remains flat and more or less in the original position.
Highland Dance is a competitive sport open to boys and girls of all ages. Dancers work their way through the skill levels from Primary to Premier, which is the highest level of Highland Dance. The Primary class is for children under seven. The Beginner class starts with children as young as seven. To advance, a dancer must place among the top three dancers at six competitions then they advance to the Novice level. To advance from Novice to Intermediate the dancer must again place among the top dancers at six competitions. The dancer will remain in intermediate for one year before advancing into the Premier level.
The Highland Fling
The Highland Fling originated as a wild dance of triumph following victory in battle. It is said to be inspired by the capers of the stag, the dancers upraised arms representing the animals antlers. Danced vigorously and exultantly, it is now highly stylized and calls for the greatest skill in technique and exactness of timing. Despite the variety of steps, it should , for example, be danced throughout in the same position on the board, perhaps because originally the Highland Fling was said to have been done on the shield of the clansman. It has become the classic solo dance at modern competitive dancing events, and is often selected at competitions to decide who will be judged the best Highland dancer of the day.
The Sword Dance
Like the Highland Fling, the Sword Dance, or the Ghillie Chalium has war as its basic theme. Today it is both picturesque and popular at Highland Games; legend has it that for the soldier to touch or displace his sword portenede evil in the coming fight. There are many other theories regarding the origin of the Sword Dance, and one of the more attractive of these is that which tells how the great Malcolm Canmore, after having defeated one of MacBeths chiefs at the battle of Dunsinane in 1054, seized his opponents sword, placing it over his own to form a cross over which he danced triumphantly to the wild music of the pipes.
The Seann Triubhas is associated with the period from 1746 to 1782 when, following the rebellion of 1745, the Scots were forbidden to wear the ancient Highland Dress, and had instead to wear the despised trousers. Seann Trubhas (pronounced Shawn Truews) merely means without trousers. The first part of the dance, which is one graceful, flowing movements, is supposed to mock the restrictions imposed by the foreign trousers, while the second part exhibits the freedom of action possible when wearing the kilt.
Unlike the three previous dances which are all solo dances, the dances classified as reels have always been group dances for recreational rather than military purposes. There are many variations, but the reel is always one of the most stirring events at modern Highland Games. Legend has it that the reel originated outside locked church, where it was danced by chilly parishioners as a method of keeping warm while waiting for a tardy clergyman.