The Highland Fling #atozchallenge

Highland FLING

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?

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Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

28 thoughts on “The Highland Fling #atozchallenge”

  1. In theory I like bagpipes, my father was heavy into all things Scottish. He played the music often. But in practice, a small amount of bagpipe music goes a long way. Meaning that learning any Highland dance was/is a no-go for me. But I do like the kilts, those call to me!

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    1. The kilt always look better on women than they do on men. I was about half my current weight in my piping days and looked ridiculous, but hey, rules are rules.

      There was generally a three-day window after a comoetition where I couldn’t stand to listen to pipe-and-drum bands; I had overdosed during the weekend, both on pipe music and beer and scotch. But I liked it then, and I still like it, tho I don’t listen to it as much as I used to. But I can see where it would get a little tiresome listening to it all. the. time.

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    1. Ah, the athletic events, tossing the caber, throwing the hammer, hoisting the sheaf… I knew a guy who was a piper and who would spend most of his time away from the pipes with the caber. He was very good at it, too; he usually walked away with a medal or two. Anyway, what you get at the Scottish weekend is pretty similar to a Highland festival, except with the latter there’s a whole lot more, and generally no turkey legs. I’ve run into a lot of piping friends at RenFests. There’s a lot of crossover.

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    1. I’ll be sure to check them out. Another good band is the Tannahill Weavers; it sounds like Wolfstone is similar. Same deal, a piper among the guitars and flutes. Do you remember a rock band in the Seventies named Piper? They were pretty good.

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    1. I’m not sure what the career of a Highland dancer is like, but I know a woman who was still quite active in her late thirties. She reached the top level of dancing in the country and retired, and I think she taught her daughters and a number of others. Her husband was a piper. Funny thing… a few years ago I learned that he had retired and they were living in Birmingham, Alabama, so we got back in touch. They live on a golf course and he said he plays for special occasions. We were watching a show on golf (it was on before a Braves game) and they featured the course he lives on, and they showed him playing for a couple of minutes. Surprised the hell out of us…

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  2. i actually really like bagpipes. I would like to watch people do the Highland Fling. If I tried it, I’d probably Highland Fling myself into a crumpled maladroite mess on the floor!😄

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    1. Generally speaking, the girls who specialize in Scottish dancing start at seven, like Miss Kayla above. Any older and they’re playing catchup. My guess is, even if you’re in prime physical shape, you’d pull something and be walking on crutches if you tried it. It’s not as easy as it looks… The young women who have been doing it all their lives are pretty remarkable.

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  3. Bagpipes are cool.
    I haven’t been to any Scottish-type events, only Irish, which from my standpoint, are similar, but to those involved, surely not.

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  4. Hm… Can’t tell. What is it? Intriguing post. I went to Highland Junior High School and Ben Lomond High School where we also had a pipe and drummers band. I fell in love with Scotland my first year in high school when I was in Brigadoon and HAD to do the sword dance. (I am NOT coordinated that way!) We have a huge Scottish Highland Festival here in Utah end of May, first of June. We have the Scottish Highland Games with participants from all over the world. So enjoy watching them and the big opening tattoo. Going to Edinburgh in September. Hope to see the big tattoo there. 😀 Oh yeah! The ring tone on my cell is the bagpipes playing The Parting Glass. But THIS is one of my favorite recorded pieces by The Piano Guys. Just happens to have bagpipes near the end. 😀 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOO5qRjVFLw

    Calen~
    Impromptu Promptlings
    A to Z Challenge Letter F

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    1. I’ve seen video of the Tattoo. It is spectacular, particularly seeing all the pipe-and-drum bands come out at the beginning. All the announcer has to say is “Ladies and gentlemen, the pipes and drums!” and the place goes nuts. When they march off for the last time, they go all the way down the Royal Mile. It has to be the coolest thing…

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  5. Rod Stewart usually opens his concerts with a bagpipe band as do my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs (hockey team) for their home opener. I’ve seen the Highland Fling performed before, but never by babies. Baby Fling does sound like an athletic event. 🙂 Thanks for the laugh!

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    1. Did you ever see the movie “So I Married An Axe Murderer” with Mike Myers? He plays both the main character and his father, and at one point the father is singing “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” accompanied by a piper. One of the funniest things I’ve seen, and hearing Rod opens his concerts with pipes, I wonder if he does the same thing…

      The girls at the Baby level are more like 4 and 5 years old. They have to be good at standing first…

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    1. As I was going through the videos of Highland dancers, she just seemed to be enjoying it so much. I saw a later video of her and she’s gotten even better. It’s one of those things where you have to start when you’re very young to be any good when you get older.

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  6. When I think of fling, my mind does not go to dance:) I love this type of dancing and it reminds me of the Celtic dancing which is Irish more considering the Lord of the Dance

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    1. We used to practice marching, forming a circle, then reforming ranks and marching off. It wasn’t that hard when you got the hang of it. We had one guy that never figured it out. He was fine on his own, but have him try to walk with the rest of us and he was always falling behind and jogging to catch up.

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