Your Questions: Highland Dance Competitions

How do Highland Dance Competitions Work?

Your frequently asked questions

As new dancers ease into the world of competitive Highland dance, a lot of questions can pop up.

How does registration work?
What dances do they do?
What do dancers wear?
How does the competition run?

This blog post covers all those questions and more, so you can enter the next competition with ease. 

Have a question you don’t see answered in this post?

Contact us to get the answer, and we’ll add it to this post!

Preparing for a Competition

What do I need to enter a competition?

All dancers must have a valid RSOBHD Registration card in order to compete. To get a dance card, fill out an application and send it in to your provincial registrar.

What do dancers wear for a competition?

There are four costumes necessary for Highland dance: the Kilt outfit is used most often, the aboyne or lilt dress is also used often, and the Irish Jig and Sailor’s Hornpipe are used occasionally. 

Dancers must have ghillies (dance shoes) when competing.

How do I register for a dance competition?

Keep an eye out for upcoming competitions on provincial affiliate websites and social media, and in communication from your studio. When an entry form is released for a competition you’d like to attend, be sure to read it carefully. While registration processes can vary, they’re usually handled through online platforms with Paypal or other online payment services, or e-transfer. Sometimes, you’ll run into a competition using mail-in registration forms, so just be sure to read everything carefully!

In New Brunswick, you can find entry forms for regional competitions on the ScotDance New Brunswick website as they become available.

For Saorsa Studio dancers, you’ll usually be able to find entry forms linked in our monthly newsletter!


What dances do registrants compete?

When you register for a competition, you’ll see the dances for their category on the entry form.

What if my dancer doesn’t know all of the dances listed for their category?

No problem! There isn’t a way to register for one dance or another within a category, so if your dancer needs to sit out a dance, they simply don’t go to the line up area when called for that dance. 

To make life easier for volunteers running line-up at the competition, dancers should let line-up volunteers know. For example, if a dancer isn’t going to do the Sword dance, they should tell the line-up volunteer about it when they’re in line up for the Fling. That way, the line-up volunteer can make a note of it, and won’t spend time looking for the dancer when they don’t show up.

At the Competition

How do I know when/where to show up?

You’ll usually be able to find this information on the competition entry form.

In recent years, some competition organisers have begun making Facebook groups or events to host information about their competition. These pages are super helpful for finding information! If the competition you’re going to has a Facebook page, you’ll likely find that information on the entry form.

What do I do/where do I go when I get to the competition?

When you arrive to a competition, you’ll most likely have to pay a small admission fee (competing dancers are exempt from this), and have the opportunity to buy an event program. Programs have all of the categories and competitors listed, as well as space to fill in event results.

Then, you should get your dancer registered. A registration table will typically be set up near the admission table, and registration typically opens about a half hour before dancing is scheduled to begin. We definitely recommend arriving at least a half hour before dancing begins, so dancers can get registered, comfortable, warmed up, etc.

Be sure that you bring your dance registration card to every competition! You’ll be prompted to show volunteers your dance card at the registration table, and then you’ll receive your competitor number. Each dancer is assigned a number to pin on their outfit (learn how and where do pin on the number in our costume blog post), and that is how the judge(s) will identity them. 

Most competitions will have change rooms for dancers (look around for signs or ask someone where they are) as well as a warm-up area where dancers can have their belongings. Note that most of the time, particularly if the competition is being held in an auditorium or a gym, dancers aren’t allowed to get changed or warm up in the main event space. Venues also often have a policy of no food or drink in event spaces. Warm-up and change area will be located outside the stage area.

So, if you have a lot of belongings or have to do a costume change, we recommend setting up a second home in addition to snagging a seat in view of the stage. Dancers will often find a place to set up their stuff, eat, change, and warm up with their friends or studio classmates.

Then what?

When dancing begins, you’ll likely hear announcements over a PA system. The event program typically contains the order of events.

Dancers are called by groups, and typically receive a “first call” and a “final call” to the line up area before their group goes on stage. 

Dancers will go on stage in groups of 2-4, so no competitors are alone. 

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.

Do dancers receive feedback on their performances from the judge?

Unfortunately, no. 

Get more context

To learn more about the inner workings of the world of competitive Highland dance, be sure to catch up on our previous posts!

Have a question you don’t see answered in this post?

Contact us to get the answer, and we’ll add it to this post!

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