Boys' Highland Dance Costumes: Boy Participants

Figure 1.--.

The children now involved in Highland dancing are primarily girls. This did not always use to be the case. As with Irish dancing, the boys used to predominate. In recent years, however, Higland dancing competitins have come to be more and more dominated by the girls. At a typical competition, the boys usually are less than 10 percent of the cmpetitors. It is not clear why this change has taken place, but seems to be primarily that dancing has come to be seen in Scotland and many other countries as a girlish activity, despite the considerable aleticism and strength required. Often it is not what the intereted potential dancer himself thinks, but what he thinks his mates (froends) might think about him dancing and wearing a kilt. In this regard, boys interested in Higland dancing are often encouraged by their partents or at least supported by them. In other fotms of dance, such as ballet, this is not always the case.


A Highland dance instructor in New Zealand advises, "Male dancers in the seniors are basically non-existent down my way but we seem to have some younger competitors coming through in that under 8 to under 12 age group. In an age group with 20 competitors, if 3 or 4 were boys you would consider it to have a lot of boys! In my experience it seems that there is a critical number which must be reached in order to keep boys learning. A young boy may not mind being by himself at first but there comes a time when he starts to feel self-conscious about being 'alone'. When he has at least a couple of other boys on stage with him he feels a little more at peace in the situation. Even if they are the only boy in the dancing school it must be nice to go to competitions and see that there are other boys learning. Naturally, I guess we could all find an exception to the rule. However, down my way we have been fortunate to have about five young boys start learning and although they are scattered around the dancing schools they see each other at competitions regularly. Whether they keep going, who knows, but at this moment it is nice to see young male dancers on stage. I find it frustrating that society has such an attitude towards boys dancing. More so because many dance forms, and highland is definitely one, started life as male only pursuits. In New Zealand women did not start competing on stage until the turn of the 20th century. I always like to remind the two young males that I teach that highland dancing has been used by the army to keep their men fit! It is not a sissy thing to do."

An Australian instructor writes, "I was at those champion of champions and too noticed the amount of boys dancing and thought it was great. I have been dancing 18 years and have been lucky enough to travel overseas for the last five summers. I presently teach three other boys (one of whom was in the group of six boys in the primary) and am hoping to have a class full of boys before years out. I have always been in awe of the Mitchelson brothers and Gregor Bowman, amongst many of the other greats, and I plan to dance for another 18 years. I hope that parents keep encouraging boys to compete, it is hard as you get older suffering all of the namecalling etc, especially in Australia where fellow boys don't understand the heritage, but if we continue to look up to great male champions like the guys above, and currently Tony Carghill, we quickly see how athletic the sport is and how strong male dancers are! Hope your boy can find the enjoyment out of this sport that I have."


A parent reports, "My son, at the ripe old age of 6, came to the solid conclusion that highland dancing was NOT a 'boy thing'. This was based on his own theories, after watching his siter dance @ competitions for 4 years & seldom seeing other 'boys' compete. I had tried to encourage him to consider dancing for quite some time; taught him the history of highland dance, etc etc. All to no avail. So, reluctantly I backed-off, let him do his 'own thing' (as we all do). However: after recently being at the Champion of Championships of Australia; where he witnessed & made friends with SEVERAL boys who were of similar age & also competing, his enthusiasm has increased dramatically. He is suddenly BEGGING me to watch him practise PDB'S & Shedding. Also knows the Jig Break, (kinda'). While I don't expect my son to be gracing the platforms with his presence any time in the near future, I am sooo pleased to see him taking an interest. Unfortunately, (but also part of the whole adventure of it all). We have to travel 9 hours/return trip to attend the 'local' competitions, so he isn't regularly 'exposed' to any great number of male dancers. I, too, would love to see more members of the 'male' species take up & continue highland dancing. Lets hope they're not all discouraged to the point where it goes 'full circle' & becomes an 'all girl' thing! PS: My son is sooo cute in his kilt & says, 'I didn't know they were THIS comfy'. Live, Dance & Be Happy!"

Christopher Wagner

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Created: April 20, 2002
Last updated: April 21, 2002