Traditional dances in Scotland

Many people all over the world and not just Scots love Scottish dancing. Dancing in Scotland has a long tradition, and the first written documents are describing dancing date back to the 18th century. Many different styles of dancing have evolved over the years in different parts of Scotland. However, many would think of the Reel as the only truly indigenous Scottish dance style. Because of the geography of Scotland, some parts of the Western Isles and Shetland, due to their position and remoteness, developed their Reel styles. Shetland particularly has a very good tradition of keeping their local dancing styles alive.

There are four main types of Scottish traditional dances. The classification, however, broad it may be, because of the many different sub-types of dances, is based on differing patterns, footwork, techniques and moves of individual dances. These four types are ceilidh dancing, Scottish country dancing, highland dancing and the step-dance. All of these are usually accompanied by the traditional instruments: pipes, accordion, fiddle.

country dance


Maybe the oldest of the four, the step-dance evolved from the old Reel dances. Before 1992, the step-dances were so rare that you almost could not see them anywhere in Scotland. Only a few people could tell you or show you how to step-dance. However, thanks to Scottish immigrants in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, this type of dance has survived. The step-dance is performed in hard-soled shoes and with a quick tempo so you can beat the ground with your heels and toes as many times as you can.  Generations of dancers developed their styles, and many individual dancers like to invent their moves. Nowadays, since 1992, the step-dancing style was re-introduced in Scotland, and people gladly enjoy dancing in weddings and other celebrations.

Scottish country dancing

Country dancing was reserved for the great, elegant halls of the 1700s, danced in formal attire and at special events by important members of society. Usually, they involve several couples, but today there are various formations developed over the centuries. The country dances mostly evolved out of the traditional Scottish Reel, but also from the Quadrille, imported from France in the 1800s. People in Scotland still enjoy the traditional country dancing, especially the Quadrilles of South Uist.

Ceilidh dancing

ceilidh-shoreditchOne more favorite of Scottish weddings, the Ceilidh has spread all over the Scottish lands. This dance is usually performed by couples. They are very easy to learn, and people like them because they usually involve a dance-caller, a person who explains the dance moves. Again, just like with other types of Scottish dances, Ceilidh dancing also has a lot of sub-types. Some dances even share the same name but are danced in a different way in different parts of Scotland.

Highland dancing

Finally, the dancing most famous outside of Scotland, the Highland dances are usually recognized by kilted dancers and bagpipes. Most common types are Gille Callum and the Highland Fling. They are somewhat physically demanding because they involve a lot of jumping and detailed footwork, along with a sense of balance.