How Important Is Technique To Highland Dancers?

The Importance of Technique in Highland Dance

As we’ve discussed in our previous posts, technique is extremely important to highland dancers. In competition, technique takes up  the largest 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

A dancer’s technique is evaluated based on the expectations set out in the RSOBHD dance textbooks. Let’s unpack what that means for competitive dancers, how this works in classes and in competition, and how our instructors keep up to date on the latest technical definitions to keep dancers performing their best.

What is the RSOBHD?

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.

To get the full scoop on the RSOBHD and what they do for highland dance, be sure to get caught up with our blog on the topic!

RSOBHD Dance Textbooks

The RSOBHD publishes technical guides to the highland dances, national dances, and the Irish Jig and Sailor’s Hornpipe, releasing updated versions every few years.

The textbooks include the approved steps for each dance, including their composition down to the beat. They also include detailed descriptions of the movements and positions that make up the steps. Each description is quite detailed – including all of the information from head to toe that a dancer or instructor needs to align themselves with the international standard.

We’ve always wondered if it would be possible to learn highland dance from simply reading the textbooks with no prior knowledge – never even having seen highland dance performed. Any volunteers for science?!

So, those 80 marks out of 100 dedicated to technique when judging a highland dance competition are extremely specific – making highland dance fairly consistent across international borders.

Things like turn out (when knees are pushed back toward the sides rather than pointing toward the front – an integral aspect of dancers’ general technique) are built into the definitions of positions and movements. For example, first position of the feet must be turned out to create at least a 90 degree angle with the feet. Any less, and you’d be doing that position wrong – that means losing points in a competition.

Each and every position, movement, and step is described by the textbooks, learned by dancers, and scrutinized by judges. 

How Does This Compare to Other Styles of Dance?

In other competitive styles of dance, such as contemporary or hip hop, technique still occupies the largest share of a dancer’s score. 

Highland is unique in that because the RSOBHD sets out specific steps, there is less focus on choreography and presentation. In other styles of dance, points are more widely distributed; where in highland, most of the additional components are absorbed by technique. 

  • Technique: maximum of 40 points
  • Performance: maximum of 30 points
  • Presentation: maximum of 15 points
  • Choreography: maximum of 10 points
  • Overall Impression: maximum of 5 points
When compared to the point distribution used in highland dance, one can see how important technique is in highland!

Highland dance does offer choreography categories in competition, but they are few and far between in comparison to other types of competition. Choreography competitions have a different criteria scheme which accounts for more focus on presentation and choreography.

How is a Standard of Instruction Ensured?

As we’ve discussed in another one of our previous posts, highland dance instructors must pass exams which require them to study the RSOBHD textbooks. Without extensive knowledge and understanding of the textbooks, instructors would not be able to pass their exams and become certified teachers.

Instructors also often take part in professional development sessions to further their knowledge and stay updated as technical updates are released! 

Keeping Dancers at the Top of Their Game

At Saorsa Studio, one of the pillars of our mission is to provide a superior dance education. That means that all of our instructors are certified and in good standing with the Scottish Dance Teacher’s Alliance, stay up to date on the latest technique, and integrate the value of technique into their classes.

Particularly as dancers get interested in the competitive side of highland dance, developing a high degree of accuracy to RSOBHD-defined techniques alongside strength, power, and stamina. 

This is why (in our humble opinion) highland dancers are able to develop such diligent work ethics that apply to areas of life outside the studio. The focus necessary for being a technically-advanced dancer can easily transfer over educational or professional environments. 

In short, highland dancers often develop into hard-working, intelligent, goal oriented people!

And it all comes back to a dedication to consistency, accuracy, and technical proficiency. 

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