What is the Royal Scottish Official Board of Highland Dance (RSOBHD)?

What is the RSOBHD?

The world of Highland dance can be confusing with all of the different local, national, and international organisations that exist within it. To understand how Highland dance is organised, you may as well start at the top. 

The Royal Scottish Official Board of Highland Dance (RSOBHD), is the world governing body of Highland dance. It creates the rules and guidelines which allow the world of Highland dance to keep turning.

"The Board is thus like a very large family, with the RSOBHD headquarters leading the family and the various organisations represented on the Board, operating the RSOBHD system within their own country or domain."
Via RSOBHD Website

The History of the RSOBHD

Prior to the founding of the RSOBHD in 1950, Highland dance had few ways of ensuring consistency and order at competitions, in the establishment of judges, and in the accreditation of teachers. 

Organisations had popped out throughout the world on local and regional levels to organise competitions, but there was little coherency between them. The major Examining Bodies wished for cooperation.

As competitions became more and more chaotic, with no official rules for organising or judging, the need for an umbrella institution became pressing. 

In 1950, the RSOBHD Board was formed with delegates from several sources. The dance Examining Bodies, such as the Scottish Dance Teacher’s Alliance (SDTA), and Affiliate organisations from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and South Africa have  representation on the RSOBHD Board. 

Additionally, there is representation from several UK dance organisations, some Competition Organisers, Independent Members, and Honorary Members. 

These parties all vote together in establishing the guiding principles of the RSOBHD. 

There are also Associate Members, who have no voting power, but sit on the Board as supporters of Highland dance on their local level. 

What does the RSOBHD do?

Highland dance is complicated sometimes – the RSOBHD creates guidelines, rules, and structures to help Highland run smoothly and be cohesive across the regions of the world where it is present!

World Wide Judges Panel

Highland dance judges receive their accreditation through examination which is through the RSOBHD. Judge’s exams are held regularly in Scotland, with occasional tests being held abroad. For example, the exam was offered in Canada in 2022 at the SDTA North American Conference.

The accreditation of judges through one respected Board ensures that judging will be fair and consistent.

World Wide Registration Scheme

Dancers who wish to compete in Highland dance competitions must register with the RSOBHD through their local Registration Agents. For example, us Canadian dancers register each year with ScotDance Canada, while dancers on the other side of the world register with ScotDance New Zealand.  

Registered dancers receive RSOBHD Registration Cards which they must bring to each competition, and which allow them to register for any RSOBHD-sanctioned competitions throughout the world. 

Additionally, this registration system defines the categories of Primary, Beginner, Novice, Intermediate, and Premier. Through these categories, the RSOBHD manages the progress of dancers.


"The Scheme (...) permits dancers to monitor their own progress through the different competition categories by a system of achievement stamps when prizes are won."
Via RSOBHD Website
Competition Regulation

With the goal of ensuring that Highland dance competitions are fair, Organisers must register their competitions with their local Registration Agent (for example, ScotDance Canada). 

The RSOBHD keeps a running list of the competitions and championships happening throughout the world.

Only RSOBHD-registered dancers can dance in RSOBHD-sanctioned competitions, and RSOBHD-registered dancers may not compete in non-sanctioned competitions. 

Shaping Highland Dance

In addition to the large, structural aspects of the RSOBHD like the Registration Scheme, the RSOBHD shapes the face of Highland dance.

Championships and Premierships

Each year, the RSOBHD designates steps to be danced for the sanctioned Championships and Premierships in the year ahead. These are the steps danced at local championships, all the way up to the World Championships at Cowal Highland Gathering each summer. 

Royal Status

In 2019, Queen Elizabeth II gave her approval, and the long-standing Scottish Official Board of Highland Dance officially became “Royal”! Hence, “RSOBHD”. 


Creating Order

Having been established more than 70 years ago, the RSOBHD continues to have immense influence over the world of Highland dance. 

The creation of rules and guidelines has allowed the worldwide Highland dance community to remain cohesive and consistent, making it possible for international competitions to take place. 

The RSOBHD continues to facilitate the spread of Highland dance throughout the world!



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