Highland Dancer Diary: Scout at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Highland Dancer Diary

Scout McKee at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Hi, my name is Scout! I am a fourth-year physics student at StFX University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

I started dancing when I was seven years old, and I have been loving it ever since! I started dancing with Nicole Odo about ten years ago; her instruction has been central to my development as a highland dancer and teacher.

Nicole Odo (L) and Scout McKee (R) outside Edinburgh Castle

This August, I got to spend the month in Edinburgh, Scotland, performing in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (REMT). A Military Tattoo is a production with music, dancing, and more. 

The cast is made up mostly of military bands and marching bands from around the world. The Edinburgh Tattoo has been running for 70 years and takes place every August at Edinburgh Castle. 

We performed every night except for Sundays, and we’d perform twice on Saturdays, so it was a very full month!

2022 Tattoo Dancers via Joe Gilhooley

Why Edinburgh?

For most of my dancing career, I was focused on competitions, but I have always enjoyed the performance and choreography aspects of highland dancing. 

The Edinburgh Tattoo was a great chance for me to have new Highland dancing experiences outside of competition. 

Additionally, I was drawn to the fact that the Tattoo Dance Company is a team effort. This was particularly exciting for me because usually, Highland dancing is primarily an individual sport/art form.

Tattoo Dancers (L-R): Fiona Sherrington, Lauren Fourney, and Scout McKee on the Castle Esplanade

The Application Process

The application process for the Tattoo was very straightforward. First, I submitted a written application in mid-January of this year, outlining my past dancing experiences and why I wanted to be a part of the Tattoo Dance Company. 

About a month later, I was asked to submit a video of myself performing several dances, steps, and a solo choreography. At the end of March, I found out I got accepted and could finally start to get excited! 

There were 56 dancers on the team this year so I felt very honoured to be one of them.

Members of Tattoo Dance Company Ready to Rehearse

Preparing for the Tattoo mostly involved staying fit and healthy for dancing. I knew that the rehearsals would involve a high volume of dancing, so I also spent extra time making sure my feet and legs were healthy, and that any chronic injuries were taken care of.,.

Arriving in Scotland

The first week in Edinburgh was full of rehearsal time since the team is made up of dancers from Scotland, Canada, and the USA. It was fun getting to meet dancers from so many different places!

It was also nice to getting to know dancers that I had already met, but had never had the chance know well because we would only see each other at bigger competitions like the ScotDance Canada Championship Series and Cowal Highland Gathering.

Tattoo Dancers on a Day Trip to Glencoe (L-R): Nicola Theim, Sarah Beth Gillis, Fiona Sherrington, Scout McKee, Lauren Fourney, Sarah Klemmer.
Rehearsal days were long, but rewarding. 

Our rehearsal time was spent learning choreography and cleaning up the dances. The choreography was stressful but fun to learn. Most of the dances were a mix of more intricate stationary steps and simple travelling steps where we’d create formations with our lines. 

We were expected to learn the choreography in a relatively short amount of time so it took a lot of focus and brainpower.

Image Via PA Media

A Typical Rehearsal Day for a Tattoo Dancer

The first week in Edinburgh focused on rehearsal. Our usual days in rehearsal began with breakfast at our accommodation, then taking a bus to the gym where we rehearse, having lunch at the gym, then rehearsing some more. Towards the end of the rehearsal week, we did “run-throughs” with the entire cast, where we perform the entire show from start to finish. 

After dinner, we’d go to the castle to practice on the esplanade, do more run-throughs, or have a dress rehearsal. Run-throughs and dress rehearsals were fun because we got to watch the other acts perform! 

The very first act we got to see was the USA Army Field Band which was ultimately one of my favourite acts. Their performance was super fun and entertaining- it was the first time in REMT history that an act included rapping!

Scout on the Way to Rehearsal

Performances Begin

Once performances started, our schedule was a lot less intensive. Typically, we would have the mornings to do whatever we’d like – like explore Edinburgh! 

I especially loved going up Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano in the middle of the city. The views from the top are amazing!

In the afternoons, we would rehearse for an hour or so, do our hair and makeup, and go for dinner at the cafeteria. After dinner, we’d meet up with the team and the rest of the cast to take the bus to the castle. 

We would get to the castle about 2 hours early, so we would usually have some time to kill in our dressing room trailers which we called “pods”. In the pods, we would chat, play cards, (sometimes nap), and warm up once it got close to show time. 

Then it was time to perform!

A Unique Performance Experience

The audience had nearly 9000 people in it during each performance, so it was exciting to dance for such a large crowd each night. 

I thought I would be intimidated by the size of the crowd, but for the first week, I barely noticed them. 

The crowd was always very engaging, but I was so focused on the dancing that I’d often forget about the audience. Performing required a lot of focus because it was a lot of intricate choreography. 

We needed to maintain a high standard – this meant being precise with lines, timing, and footwork. 

2022 Tattoo Dancers via Joe Gillhooley

Performing took a lot of focus, but every now and then, I’d catch a glimpse of the castle, or I’d recognize the smiles in the crowd.  This made me appreciate just how special it is to dance in the Tattoo.

Scout McKee (L) and Nicole Theim (R)

Looking Back

I am beyond grateful for my experiences at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. I made tons great memories and met so many wonderful people. 

One piece of advice I would give to anyone dancing in their first tattoo is to take advantage of the social opportunities. In other words, don’t forget to have fun!

 It can be easy to get caught up in the long rehearsal days or in worrying about the show, but it is so important to have fun with the rest of the cast and to enjoy your time with the dance company. 

The experience of dancing in such a large production is special in so many ways. 

The Edinburgh Tattoo was a bucket-list item for my dancing career, and it lived up to every expectation I had.

Story edited by Kate Francoeur

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