Your Guide to Highland Dance Provincials

How Does Provincials Work?

As Canadian competitive Highland dancers move through the competitive categories toward Premier level, provincials looms large.

Also known as provincial championships or selection meets, provincials is an annual occurrence in each province, giving Premier dancers the opportunity to represent their province at that year’s Canadian championships.

In this post, we’ll break down everything you need to know about provincials – how the scoring works, who attends, what it all means, and our tips for having a positive provincials experience. Read on to stay in the know as we head into another Summer of championship dancing!

Saorsa Studio instructors Callum and Sarah representing Alberta and New Brunswick at SDCCS 2022 in Regina

What is a Championship?

Championships are competitions for only Premier-level dancers, and competitors 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. 

Who Can Attend Provincials?

Provincials, regardless of what province you’re in, are closed championship events. This means that competitors must qualify by birth or residency in order to compete in the event. 

For example, dancers looking to compete in this year’s New Brunswick Closed Provincial Championship must have either been born in New Brunswick or have resided in New Brunswick for at least 6 months prior to the event.

Did you know that Nicole, Saorsa Studio owner, is a 10-time New Brunswick provincial champion?

How is Provincials Judged?

Provincials is judged the same as any other Championship. As mentioned earlier, there are three judges, and scores are calculated collectively. 

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.

Age Categories

As is defined by the RSOBHD, there are six age groups danced at championships:

  • 7 and under 10 years
  • 10 and under 12 years
  • 12 and under 14 years
  • 14 and under 16 years
  • 16 and under 18 years
  • 18 and under 21 years
  • 21 and over
Image via ScotDance New Brunswick. The New Brunswick provincial representatives in 2003.

Why Does Provincials Happen?

Each province hosts provincials in order to select their provincial representatives for that year’s Canadian championship, held each year at the ScotDance Canada Championship Series

The top three dancers (champion, first runner up, and second runner up) from each age group form the provincial team for that year. With each of the age groups, a provincial team typically has a maximum 21 members. 

Earning a spot on their provincial team gives dancers an invitation to compete in the Closed Canadian Championship hosted each year at the ScotDance Canada Championship Series (SDCCS). That championship is closed to all dancers except provincial representatives, making it quite the exclusive and highly-competitive event. 

This year, at SDCCS in Halifax, the 47th annual Closed Canadian Championship will be held!

If you haven’t heard, SDCCS offers a lot more than just the Closed Canadian Championship – there are events accessible for all dancers as young as age 4!


In each age category at provincials, the 3rd runner up (fourth place overall), is an “alternate”. This means that in the event that any of the three provincial representatives from that age category cannot attend SDCCS, the alternate will go in their place and compete at the Closed Canadian Championships.

A Catch

The limit of 21 dancers may be increased in the event of a “by”. This occurs because of the rule that “the current Canadian Championship title-holders have an automatic invitation to compete in the following year’s Championship regardless of whether or not they change age classification” (via ScotDance Canada). 

Each of the 7 champions at the Closed Canadian Championship (more on that later) are automatically given a spot on their team the next year. So, at the next provincials, that team will include the top three dancers from that age category plus the current Champion, making four.

So, in theory, a single provincial team could contain up to 25 dancers (given that all 7 current Champions are from the same province).   


Not only do the representatives compete in the Closed Canadian Championships, they participate in other awesome events throughout SDCCS. 

The opening ceremonies happen on the first day of the Series, and features a parade of all of the provincial representatives, sporting their provincial sashes. Each province is acknowledged one by one, giving dancers an opportunity to shine!

Then, on the evening of the Closed Canadian Championship day, dancers attend a banquet. Provincial representatives wear their sashes and are seated for the meal with representatives from other provinces. This gives dancers a great opportunity to form connections and friendships with dancers from across the country! 

The banquet is open to all SDCCS attendees, not just the reps. Dancers, instructors, parents, and other members of the community come together to get dressed up after a hard day of dancing and enjoy award presentations, the presentation of championship swords to each of the brand-new Canadian champions, and a great meal. The night usually ends with attendees kicking off their heels and doing what they love most – dancing!

Saorsa Studio dancers at the banquet at SDCCS 2019 in Moncton

What Happens at Provincials?

Other than the stress and high stakes, provincials isn’t actually very different from other championships. The real differences happen after the awards are presented. The awards are given out, and typically, the provincial champions from each age category dance a Highland Fling together. A team photo will also be taken.

This next part may vary by province, but this is the process in New Brunswick: those who make the team are gathered up to discuss plans going forward. Each team member is prompted to purchase a team warm-up jacket if they don’t already have one from years previous, are told the plan for SDCCS, and are informed if there is a plan to do any fundraising. This meeting is typically accompanied by a sweet treat for the dancers’ hard work!🍰

New Brunswick Provincial team in 2015. It's a blurry pic, but can you pick out Saorsa Studio instructors Nicole and Kate?

Our Tips for a Positive Provincials Experience

Provincials is an exciting event that can bring with it a lot of anticipation, but it can also be a source of stress, high emotions, and inevitably, disappointment. 

Dancers dedicate a lot of time and hard work to preparing for provincials, and spend months dreaming about attending SCCDS as a representative of their province. When that day finally arrives, tensions are usually quite high.

Coming from an author who has experienced all of the fun sides of provincials (sword kicking, crying, not making the team, etc.), I know that overcoming stress and other unhelpful-for-your-performance emotions is half the battle when it comes to this event. 

Get to know what techniques work for you in preparing yourself for the stress of the day and creating a good headspace for yourself day-of. See what’s out there –  a lot of great articles have been written on strategies for preparing for performance. Here are a few of our tips for emotional stability on provincials day:

  • Be mindful in setting your expectations: attempt to set goals for yourself that are motivating and challenging but not unrealistic. If you only start practicing the week before provincials, setting the goal of becoming provincial champion is likely to end in disappointment. 
  • Figure out what you need to prepare emotionally: Like I mentioned previously, there’s a lot out there to help you develop strategies that work for you for preparing for performance. From breathing exercises to journalling to visualising, there’s something for everyone. Here’s a few to get you started:
    Ohio Centre for Sport Psychology Mental Skills
    American Psychological Association Sport and Performance
    Peak Sports Mental Preparation
    PositivePsychology Techniques
    Joy of Dance Preparing for Performance
  • Find focusing and calming techniques for the day of: The above resources can also give you a start on figuring out tools that work for you for keeping a level head throughout the day. If you kick the sword, maybe you’ll need to find a quiet corner to do a breathing exercise so that you don’t bring that negative energy to the Seann Triubhas. Or maybe, you’ll want to get a pep talk from your teacher. Maybe you need to bring noise cancelling headphones, or a specific shade of lipstick, or a million other great ways to find your focus. 
  • Above all, remember that dance is supposed to be fun! Provincials can be nerve-wracking, but try not to get too caught up in results. Being proud of the work you put in and finding joy in your dance community are worth more than trophies and medals.
  • Overcoming disappointment: It’s inevitable that dancers won’t always get the results they wanted. While it seems hard at the time, remember that there’s always next year, and disappointment can serve as a motivator for the future. SDCCS is still an amazing event to attend, regardless of if you’re a provincial representative or not. If nothing else, you’ll have a fire under your butt for next year and a day right in the middle of SDCCS to recover and explore the city you’re visiting! 
Saorsa Studio dancers backstage at SDCCS 2022 in Regina

Good Luck to All Dancers Preparing for Provincials! We Believe in You❤️

Do you have a question we haven’t covered yet on our Highland Dancer Blog? Let us know, and we’ll get you covered!

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Dancing in a Winter Wonderland – 2023 holiday recital

Saturday, December 9th at 5:30pm
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Sunday, December 10th 3-5pm at Saorsa North

All dancers and families are welcome to join us for holiday snacks and activities hosted by the Fredericton Highland Dance Association!