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Highland Dance

Scottish Heavy Events

Scottish Highland Dance was developed in the Scottish Highland in the 19th and 20th century and has long been a staple of the Antigonish Highland Games.

Enjoy watching dancers from all over the world as they compete in the numerous, enjoyable dancing competitions

Important Information

History of Highland Dancing 

Dating back to the 11th or the 12th century, the Highland Dances of Scotland tended to be highly athletic male celebratory dances or triumph or joy, or warrior dances performed over swords and spiked shields. According to tradition, the old kings and chiefs of Scotland used the Highland Games as a way of choosing their best men for their retinue and men at arms. 

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Highland Dancing was one of the various ways men were tested for strength, stamina, accuracy, and agility. The Scottish military regiments used to use Highland Dancing as a form of training to develop stamina and agility. Competitive Highland dancing started during the Highland revival of Victorian Britain and was for men only. Ladies began competing only at the turn of the Century. Over the centuries the dancing style has become more refined and now shares many elements from classical ballet. Although historically Highland dancing was restricted to men, today it is most performed by females. No matter who dances them, Highland dances require both athletic and artistic skill.

The Dances

Antigonish Highland Games

The Highland Fling 

The oldest of the traditional dances of Scotland and is a dance of joy performed at the end of a victorious battle. It was danced by male warriors over a small round shield called a Targe. The Highland Fling is danced on the spot and is said to be based on the antics of a stag on the hillside, fingers and arms representing antlers.

Antigonish Highland Games

The Sword Dance (Mary Dundas Trophy) 

The earliest references to the Sword Dance are from the 19th century but it likely dates back earlier. One story is that this was a dance of victory as the King danced over his bloody claymore (sword) and head of his enemy. Another story is that the Sword Dance was danced prior to battle and to kick the swords was considered a bad omen for the impending battle. Today, if a dancer kicks their sword, they are most likely disqualified depending on their category.

Antigonish Highland Games

The Seann Tribuhas

This dance is pronounced “shawn trews” and translates to “old trousers.” This dance is reputed to date from the rebellion of 1745 when Bonnie Prince Charlie challenged England at Culloden and lost. As penalty, the Highlands were forbidden to wear the kilt. This dance is a celebration in response to the Proscription Repeal which restored to the Scots the right to wear their kilts and play the bagpipes once more. The movements of this dance depict the legs shaking and shedding the hated trousers and returning to the freedom of the kilt.

Antigonish Highland Games

Strathspey and Reel 

These are variations of a strathspey and reel, always performed by four dancers. The strathspey is never danced alone in competition and must be followed by a reel. These dances illustrate the “set” and “travel” steps which are common in Scottish social dancing.  

Antigonish Highland Games

The Flora McDonald’s Fancy (Florence MacMillan Trophy) 

This is said to be last dance Flora McDonald danced for Bonnie Prince Charlie before he fled overseas but is likely to be a dance named in her honour. Flora MacDonald helped the prince escape to North Uist to Skye disguised as her maid. She emigrated to America but returned home to Skye later in life.

Antigonish Highland Games

The Sailor’s Hornpipe & The Irish Jig

Both of these dances are caricature dances developed from the traditional English version. It has become more popular in Scotland than English and is regular featured in Highland Games.

The movements of the Sailor’s Hornpipe, portray the actions used in the daily routines of a sailor’s life, such as pulling ropes, climbing the rigging and looking out to sea. A costume like a sailor’s uniform is worn for this dance.

The Irish Jig is a dance depicting an Irish washerwoman who is angry with her erring husband. The costume worn for this dance is either a red or emerald green skirt and bodice with a full white petticoat and white apron. Red or green jig shoes are worn and there is much stamping and facial grimacing in this dance. In the male version, dancers wear a red or green tailcoat, brown knee britches of corduroy, with a paddy hat and he carries a shillelagh, which is a club made from the forked branch of a tree.

Antigonish Highland Games

Florence MacMillian Memorial Award

Florence MacMillan was a premier dancing instructor in Antigonish who brought champion dancers like Mabel MacInnis, Gerarda MacDonald, Janice Macquarrie and Patsy MacAdam into prominence. She bucked the dancing establishment with her methods and eventually saw her students win seven out of eight provincial qualifying berths for the 1968 national championships. However, she did more than just instruct, she motivated her first generation of advanced highland dancers, mainly Janice MacQuarrie and Gerarda Macdonald to excel as teachers and choreographers. Because of Florence, her students and now their students, Antigonish can make some legitimate claims for excellence in Highland dance. The Florence MacMillan trophy is presented to the Premier dancer from the Maritimes who performs the best Flora MacDonald Fancy at the Games. An appropriate dance commemorating a well-loved personality.

See Previous Winners

Previous Winners:

Year     Name

1967     Gerarda MacDonald

1968     Gerarda MacDonald

1969     Janice MacQuarrie

1970     Gerarda MacDonald

1971     Rita Lynn MacDougall

1972     Debbie Robson

1973     Sheila MacNeil

1974     Clare Kiely

1975     Kathy MacKinnon

1976     Sherrie Green

1977     Debbie Robson

1978     Heather MacKinnon

1979     Patti Ann MacLeod

1980     Clare Kiely

1981     Clare Kiely

1982     Patti Ann MacLeod

1983     Sherrie Lynn Murray

1984     Clare Kiely

1985     Jennifer Richardson

1986     Donna Cameron

1987     Donna Cameron

1988     Michelle MacGillivray

1989     Michelle MacGillivray

1990     Donna Cameron

1991     Michelle MacGillivray

1992     Jesselyn Petrie

1993     Sabra MacGillivray

1994     Sabra MacGillivray

1995     Sabra MacGillivray

1996     Sara Cluett

1997     Sabra MacGillivray

1998     Sabra MacGillivray

1999     Stephanie Grant

2000     Stephanie Grant

2001     Stephanie Turnbull

2002     Stephanie Grant

2003     Stephanie Grant

2004     Stephanie Grant

2005     Stephanie Turnbull

2006     Sarah McKenna

2007     Stephanie Grant

2008     Sarah McKenna

2009     Sarah McKenna

2010     Sara McKegney

2011     Victoria Boily

2012     Jillian MacLeod

2013     Sara McKegney

2014     Leah Campbell

2015     Robin Scott

2016     Shelby Lynne Dalziel

2017     Scout McKee

2018     Scout McKee

Antigonish Highland Games

Mary Dundas Memorial Award 


See Previous Winners

Year     Name

1960     Leanne Pugsley

1961     Sheena Hold

1962     Terri Brean

1963     Eileen Pottie

1964     Eileen Pottie

1965     Eileen Pottie

1966     Frances Cooke

1967     Janice MacQuarrie

1968     Debbie Smith

1969     Janice MacQuarrie

1970     Janice MacQuarrie

1971     Heather MacKinnin

1972     Marianne Skinner

1973     Julia Ann BrayBrook

1974     Heather MacKinnin

1975     Heather MacKinnin

1976     Cheryl Verriere

1977     Sherri Green

1978     Clare Kiely

1979     Jill Young

1980     Claranne Floyd

1981     Glenda Landry

1982     Michelle MacGillivray

1983     Danielle Trudeau

1984     Krista Gunn

1985     Ann Milne

1986     Krista Gunn

1987     Sara Cluett

1988     Sabra MacGillivray

1989     Kelly Anne Carey

1990     Jennifer MacDonald

1991     Stephanie Grant

1992     Stephanie Grant

1993     Stephanie Grant

1994     Stephanie Grant

1995     Stephanie Grant

1996     Shelley Lynn Walsh

1997     Sonya Doucette

1998     Shelley Lynn Walsh

1999     Marielle Lesperance

2000     Marielle Lesperance

2001     Marielle Lesperance

2002     Marielle Lesperance

2003     Marielle Lesperance

2004     Marielle Lesperance

2005     Sarah McKenna

2006     Robin Scott

2007     Jillian MacLeod

2008     Jillian MacLeod

2009     Micayla Matthews

2010     Cornelia Geib

2011     Larissa Godin

2012     Abigail Maeg

2013     Morgan McDougall

2014     Morgan McDougall

2015     Carly MacDonald

2016     Hannah MacDonald

2017     Elise Berrevoets

2018     Olivia Burke

New Zealand Pre-Premier Award  

In 1989, a dance troupe with family and friends from various parts of New Zealand, chifley Auckland, Hamilton and Whangarei visited the Antigonish Highland Games. Some of the New Zealand delegations were descendants of Nova Scotia who left St. Ann’s for Waipu, New Zealand, in the late 1950’s.

The “Highland Games” culture is strong in New Zealand and members of this particular group made a habit of celebrating the midnight before the Waipu Games each New Years with a mass participation “all hands up and all feet dancing” hillside Highland Fling on Donald Fraser;s land overlooking the Bream Bay. For Games lovers, these games are a must to see.

Pat Bourgoyne on behalf of this dancing troupe presented the Antigonish Highland Society with an intricately carved Maori plaque to commemorate their visit. The warrior faces on the shield are inset with Paua (abalone) shells.

The late Peter Ryan of Auckland taught many of the dancers in this group, but illness prevented of making the trip to Nova Scotia. To commemorate his work with youth, the trip his mates took, and in in celebration of the links between Nova Scotia and Waipu, is presented annually to an Antigonish Town or County Pre-Premier dancer in Beginner, Novice, or Intermediate who has been chosen by the judges as the dancer demonstrating the “most promise”.


See Previous Winners

Previous Winners

Year     Name

1989     Julie MacPherson

1990     Jacklyn MacDonald

1991     Valerie Chisholm

1992     Shenna MacDonald

1993     Susan Boyd

1994     Jill Deyoung

1995     Susan Boyd

1996     Katie Rawding

1997     Bridget Coady

1998     Tara Chisholm

1999     Robin Scott

2000     Emily Ives

2001     Jillian Scott

2002     Katie MacDonald

2003     Kayla MacDonald

2004     Janelle Marchand

2005     Breah MacEachern

2006     Riely Wilson

2007     Maria Landry

2008     Courtney MacDonald

2009     Erin Gilfoy

2010     Hannah Delorey

2011     Megan Smith

2012     Julia Mae MacDonald

2013     Jaelyn Rovers

2014     Jaelyn Rovers

2015     Adelaide MacDonald

2016     Ava Rogers

2017     Yashita Ghore

2018     Brooke Hayne

Wilena MacInnis Penny Award 

Few exemplified more the spirit of love of the Gael than the late Wilena MacInnis Penny did.  Born in Cape George, she served the Antigonish Highland Society in many ways in addition to being the society’s first female President and then for several years Games Chairperson.

Wilena’s efforts helped sustain and invigorate the Highland Heart and gave an authentic voice to that which we are “Clanna Nan Giadheal” (Children of the Gael).

In recognition of her outstanding contribution to the preservation of Scottish Culture and tradition, this trophy donated in her memory is presented annually to the Premier Dancer from Antigonish Town or County who accumulates the highest number of total points in the Premier Competitions. Originally, this included all events held during the games with the exception of Pre-Championships, Championships, some special events, and Restricted Premier because some dancers were ineligible to compete in these events.  Today, the New Scotland Open Championship, the Florence MacMillan Flora Special Event and the Highland Heart Open Premiership contributes to the accumulations of points.

See Previous Winners

Previous Winners

Year     Name

1994     Stephanie Grant

1995     Valerie Chisholm (tie)

1995     Stephanie Grant (tie)

1995     Kara Spencer (tie)

1996     Jessica McKenna

1997     Valerie Chisholm

1998     Sabra MacGillivray

1999     Jessica McKenna (tie)

1999     Stephanie Grant (tie)

2000     Holly Arsenault

2001     Holly Arsenault

2002     Stephanie Grant

2003     Stephanie Grant

2004     Stephanie Grant

2005     Robin Scott

2006     Robin Scott

2007     Sarah McKenna

2008     Sarah McKenna

2009     Sarah McKenna

2010     Breanna Heffernan

2011     Lindsay MacCormick

2012     Lindsay MacCormick

2013     Erin Gilfoy

2014     Megan Smith

2015     Megan Smith

2016     Jaelyn Rovers

2017     Erin Gilfoy

2018     Karly Boyle