Highland Dance is continuously changing and includes both solo and group dances.  Highland Dance is very old, but contemporary interpretations can be added.

What is Highland Dance?

Highland Dance has its origins in sword dancing dating back as far as the 1500s. The beginning of the Highland Games in the early 19th Century resulted in the highland dance beginning to evolve. The dance was an integral part of the games competition and originally only danced by men.

In the late 19th Century a young woman by the name of Jenny Douglas was the first female to enter a competition. Today, 95% of Highland dancers around the world are female.

Highland dance continued to evolve into the 20th Century to become the event we know today; an athletic dance accompanied by a bagpipe, frequently seen as a competition at public events.

Highland Dance consists of:

  • Highland Fling
  • Sword Dance
  • Seann Triubhas Reel (Strathspey and Highland Reel, Strathspey and Reel O’Tulloch, Reel O’Tulloch, Strathspey, Highland Reel and Reel O’Tulloch)


National Dances:

  • Irish Jig
  • Sailors Hornpipe
  • Scottish Lilt
  • Flora McDonald’s Fancy
  • Barracks Johnnie
  • Highland Laddie
  • Blue Bonnets
  • Scotch Measure
  • Earl of Errol

Some are solo dances whilst the reels are danced with four dancers.

Highland dance first appeared in New Zealand around the mid 1800s and was performed at local Scottish Caledonian Games — the Highland Reel, Highland Fling, Sword Dance, and Seann Triubhas being the dances of choice.

Like other dance traditions, Highland dancing is a hybrid form that has been constantly changing according to contemporary preferences and interpretations of the past. While some elements may be centuries old, other elements are much more modern. The vast majority of dances now performed were composed in the last century.

New Zealand is now one of the top six most popular countries in the world for Highland Dancing.

A Choice of Techniques

Highland Dancers within New Zealand have a choice of two different techniques, either the technique of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing or that of the NZ Academy of Highland and National Dancing.

The technique of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing (www.sobhd.net) is governed within New Zealand by ScotDance New Zealand (www.scotdancenz.co.nz ). Examinations are held by international examining bodies and dancers achieve qualifications that are internationally recognized. This technique is danced by 99% of all highland dancers worldwide.

The technique of the NZ Academy of Highland and National Dancing (www.nzahnd.org.nz) has been performed in New Zealand since 1947. The NZAHND conducts training and examinations, and also offers an extensive programme of training in both Irish Step Dancing and the Sailors Hornpipe (the national dance of England).

Where do you learn Highland Dance?

Most centres around the country have Highland Dance schools or studios.

While it varies from school to school, most teach in a class environment only. There are advantages with the group tuition, where young children interacting with others, creates an enjoyable synergy which is stimulating and fun.

As the young dancer progresses individual tuition is available through private teachers. However, the dancer would generally be expected to be fairly well advanced.

What age can your child start Highland Dance?

Dance schools vary on the age that they take dancers. Some schools have excellent preschool dance classes available. Dancers can start at any age and many start as adults.

The Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing has an excellent grading system which caters for dancers starting at various ages.

While not wanting to discourage a potential pupil in any way; a 10 year old (for example) commencing Highland for the first time is likely to find themselves in a class of younger children as opposed to peers, while they learn the basics.

If your child is interested in taking up Highland dancing, phone your nearest dance studio. They will usually warmly welcome you to visit a class and see what’s involved. This is a great way for the young dancer to see what happens and determine if Highland is the dance style for them before deciding on a longer term commitment.

How do you progress over time?

Dancing schools vary as to what they offer. The majority of dancing schools will offer classes for fun and enjoyment and also offer examinations and competitions. Many dancing schools dance at displays, galas, concerts etc..

Each type of Highland Dancing has different examination systems and within each system there are a variety of pathways that dancers can take.

Check the following websites:





So while examinations are not compulsory, most teachers would strongly encourage their pupils to follow the examination path. Examinations are held every May and September.

The other path to follow is progressing through competitions. While most other dance forms hold regular competitions of some sort, Highland competitions are held in high regard among its teachers and pupils.

This is partly due to the competitive nature of Highland and its origins as an integral part of the Highland games back in the 19th century – Highland has always been competitive.

But the competitions also provide a platform for the young dancers to showcase their hard earned skills and talents, and are seen as an important part of the Highland Dancing syllabus.

The Piping & Dancing Association of New Zealand has held competitions in New Zealand for over 100 years both for Highland and National Dancing and for Solo Piping (bagpipes), currently with over 200 competitions held each year throughout New Zealand.

What equipment do you need for Highland Dance?

The beginner can start practicing without any special gear until they are sure Highland is the dance form for them. This avoids any outlay in the initial stages. However, should the student continue with the lessons, then a formal Highland dance outfit is required. This includes the traditional kilt plus Highland dance shoes.  Many dance studios expect their students to wear studio uniform for dance class. Check this out when you phone to ask about dance classes.

How much does Highland Dance cost?

Kilts can be purchased new and cost up to $1,000.

Second hand kilts are available and a good option in the early stages of learning. They can be purchased from dance supply stores or through the teaching academy. Expect to pay $100 – $250 depending on size and age of the uniform.

Highland dance shoes cost around $50 – $95.

Tuition fees vary from school to school. For 30 – 60 minutes tuition per week, expect to pay $70 – $100 per term for class training.

How much time does Highland Dance take to learn?

Practice time expectations vary according to the ability and pathway that the dancer is taking. It is an expectation in most dance schools to attend at least once a week. If the dancer is a competitive dancer, then at least two lessons a week would be expected.

In addition to daily practice, additional practise would be required for examination and competition work.

Great Highland Dance Websites


The New Zealand Academy of Highland & National Dancing is an examination body that trains and qualifies highland dancers, teachers and judges.


The Piping & Dancing Association of New Zealand Inc. (PDANZ) has approximately 60 affiliated societies spread across the country.










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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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