Highland dance competition returns to Lethbridge

·2 min read

Highland dancing has returned to Lethbridge, minus some of its more ancient traditions, fortunately.

Lethbridge Highland Dance Association (LHDA) returned to competition for the first time since it was interrupted by the COVID pandemic. The event took place last weekend at Winston Churchill High School, where bagpiper Mary Ann Houston described the traditions and pointed out women were originally forbidden from participating in Highland dancing.

“Originally, Highland dancing was all done by men, and it was done before men went into battle,” Houston said. “The history of the sword and then kilt was men's attire, and women weren't allowed to wear kilts, and women weren't allowed to play bagpipes until, well, in certain areas in Scotland they weren't allowed to play until the late 70s.”

The dance competition was LHDA’s 41st, and it included a brief history of highland dance by LHDA president Tamara Trotter.

“Dating back to the 11th or 12th century, Highland dancing tells a story or reflects upon a way of life and requires both athletic and artistic skill,” Trotter explained. “Although today more than 90 per cent of dancers are female, historically, dances were primarily performed by men to demonstrate their strength, stamina, and agility, or to commemorate martial victory, conflict, and joy.”

Only about two of the 120 competitors in this year’s competition were boys, and Houston said she hopes more boys participate in the sport.

“It's strange to see so few boys in Highland dance when it started out as a man thing. And so, whenever I see little boys, I really try to encourage them to keep dancing because I'd like to see both genders represented in the dance community.”

The two local instructors who teach highland dancing is Kandi Russell at the Spirit of Scotland Dancers and Samantha Tinworth at Solasta Highland Dance Studio. Russell said competitors had a lot of time to practice during COVID, and she suspected the competition would be intense this year.

“Because everybody's been unable to compete for the last couple of years, we just started getting back into competition these last six months,” Russell said. “And so, everybody's been practicing for two years. It’s intense.”

The sword dance is one of the traditional dances the competitors perform to live bagpipe music, and Houston said, historically, warriors believed a battle's outcome would not be favorable if, during their dance, they touched the sword. Once the battle was over, the victors took the enemies' swords and laid it across their sword as part of the dance celebration.

Steffanie Costigan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald