The original Highland dances - the Schot tische, Ghillie Galium, etc. - were essentially martial, and women were not supposed to take part in them. Early descriptions are very meagre, but it seems a fairly accurate supposition that the steps and figures have changed very slightly during succeeding eras. Many clans possess their own special fling or reel, and from generation to generation these are handed down as heirlooms.
The Highland Fling is a medley of steps used in all Scottish dances. It is usually performed to the music of the Strathspey. The term "fling" expresses the kick which characterises the step. The Highland dancer stands on each leg alternately, and "flings " the other in front and behind. The first place in popularity must be accorded to the Reel, which dance has been frequently performed - from the Restoration onwards - by rich and poor alike.
It is interesting to note that the pentatonic scale is greatly employed in Scotch music, and also by some of the Asiatic nations.
Fig. 5. "High Springs." After dancing toe and heel 'with the right foot, the dancer takes four high springs forward, shivering each root in the air in turn. Toe and heel follows with the left foot, and four high springs backwards
The principal instruments of the Scotch - the harp and the bagpipes - are both to be found in Central Asia. Music plays an important part in Highland dancing, though reels are sometimes danced to vocal accompaniment, shouts, and finger cracking, when bagpipes are not available. The rhythm is very peculiar and most fascinating. Many of the Scotch airs, though lively in an unusual degree, possess a strange underlying melancholy, which is such a prominent feature of the national temperament. Monotonous to a certain extent, these tunes are written in phrases of 8 to 16 or 32 bars, seldom longer. This necessitates much repetition, which adds to the strange power and purpose of the dances.
The Reel is a gliding dance usually performed by two couples. The movements differ according to the locality, but the principal point - the circular form - is the same in all. When performed by two couples the reel is styled a foursome; by three, a sixsome; by four, an eightsome. It is advisable to dance as much on the points of the toes as possible, for a Scotch dance is light above everything, and possesses many rapidly "dotted" steps, performed only with the toes. The Reel of Tulloch is the most characteristic of the strathspey tunes. It was popularised by Neil Gow and his sons, by whom it was first played on the violin.
Fig. 7. The "Strathspey" step. This consists of a spring sideways, a dotted step and a rock, the whole step being repeated in the opposite direction
It is impossible to illustrate every Highland step, or any particular dance, in its entirety, as they vary according to clan and locality. But illustrations are given of a few of the most prominent steps from the Reels, the Fling, and the Strathspey.
Figure i. Cutting-up Step. This step is to be found in most reels, and in the schottische. Beat 1. The dancer extends one foot sideways with a spring. Beat 2. The same foot is "cut" to the opposite knee. This is repeated once more with the same foot, and afterwards with the opposite foot. Care should be taken to turn the knee well out, and extend the foot on a line with the stationary foot, so that one leg is at right angles with the other. In every reel step the knee of the foot that is raised should point sideways, not forward. The opposite hand is raised in every case.
Figure 2. 1st Fling Step. The first "fling " step is the same as the 5th reel step. Beat 1. Foot extended sideways, with a spring. Beat 2. Foot raised below knee, and placed behind, in front (see illustration 2), and again behind. The opposite foot is then used, and the hand changed. The original foot repeats the step, and then the dancer turns round once, using the opposite foot.
Figure 3. 1st Fling Step, Turning. This picture illustrates the dancer's position when turning, with both hands raised. The dancer is "flinging" her left foot behind, in front, and behind her right leg, while she turns.
Figure 4. Toe and Heel. This step occurs in the fling and the reel, in a slightly different form. The 1st fling step is repeated once with the right foot, followed by " toe and heel." The toe and heel are alternately placed on the ground with a spring, dropping as near the stationary foot as possible.
Figure 5. High Springs. This is another fling step. The performer, after dancing toe and heel with the right foot, takes four high springs forward, shivering each foot in the air in turn. Toe and heel follows with the left foot, and four high springs backwards.
Figure 6. Rocking Step. This occurs in the fling and in several reels. The dancer, with hands locked, "rocks " from one foot to the other, proceeding straight forward or turning in a circle.
Figure 7. The Strathspey. Step. This step - the most prominent of the strathspey steps - consists of a spring sideways, a dotted step (see illustration 7), and a rock, the whole step being repeated in the opposite direction.
Figure 8. Springing Pas de Basque. This occurs in the Reel of Tulloch, the Sword dance, and many others. It is an ordinary pas de Basque danced with a spring, the feet being placed toe to toe at beat 2, instead of flat on the ground.
Fig. 8. "Springing pas de Basque." This is danced with a spring, the feet being placed toe to toe at the second beat instead of flat on the ground