How Do Highland Dance Competitions Work?

How do Highland dance competitions work?

Entering the Highland dance world for the first time can be challenging and confusing, but it doesn’t have to be!

This post contains all you need to know about how Highland dance competitions work, how judging works, and how to get involved. 

Dancer categories

The RSOBHD (Royal Scottish Official Board of Highland Dance) operates a registration system that allows dancers to progress through competitive categories based on their competition results. 

The categories are as follows:

  • Primary
  • Beginner
  • Novice
  • Intermediate
  • Premier

The first four categories are considered “pre-premier”. 

Dancers who register with the RSOBHD are entitled to compete in all RSOBHD-sanctioned competitions.

Want to learn more?

Read our blog all about the RSOBHD! Learn about dancer registration, global judging requirements, and more!

How are dancers judged?

Technique, which is evaluated based on the expectations set out in the RSOBHD dance textbooks, takes up a huge portion of the criteria of a dancer’s score:

  • Technique: maximum of 80 marks
  • Timing: maximum of 10 marks
  • General deportment: maximum of 10 marks
When dance teachers give corrections to dancers, they’re trying to get dancers closer to the expectations in the textbooks, so dancers can achieve higher scores.

Event types


Championships are only for Premier-level dancers, and dancers must dance the Highland dances (Fling, Sword, Seann Truibhas, and Reel) with the RSOBHD-assigned steps for that year. 3 judges are needed for championships, and scores are calculated collectively from the three judges in order to award placings. 

Open Championships

Competitors residing outside the area named in the championship title may compete (i.e.: dancers from around the world may compete in the Canadian Open Championships).

Closed Championships

Competitors must qualify by birth or residency in order to compete in the event (i.e.: the New Brunswick Closed Provincial Championship is closed to dancers outside of New Brunswick). 


Premierships are similar to Championships in that only Premier dancers compete, and 3 judges are needed. 

Premierships are categorised as an open event, and dancers compete with four National dances rather than Highland dances. Each year, the RSOBHD assigns steps for four different National dances for the purposes of the Premiership. For example, the 2022 Premiership dances are the Sailor’s Hornpipe, Earl of Errol, Scotch Measure, and Scottish Lilt.

Premier competitions and Pre-Premier competitions

These are the competitions you typically see hosted by your local dance associations. Competition organisers are able to select the dances for the event (within RSOBHD regulations), and these allow pre-premier competitors to move up through the categories.

These are judged by one judge, and overall trophies are awarded to dancers who accumulate the most points obtained through the dance events of the day. 

Pre-Championship competitions

Pre-championships are open to dancers who have never won first-overall in a championship event. 

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