Dancer Diary: Nicole at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Throughout my dance career, I’ve travelled to Scotland countless times for the month of August to compete, as there are championships almost every weekend leading up to the World Championships at the Cowal Highland Gathering.
Every year that I went, there would typically be at least one or two dancers that I knew from Canada who would ALSO be going for the month of August, but they were instead headed to perform for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (REMT).
Performing at REMT was something I started dreaming about when I was around 18 years old, but I kept putting off until I was done competing.
In hindsight (and maybe a tip for other dancers reading this), I would recommend not putting it off. Life starts to get crazy and it just gets harder and harder to take a month away!
But the stars aligned for me to be able to go, so I went ahead and FINALLY auditioned and received the good news that I had been selected for the team in March 2023.
This blog will take you through everything from beginning to end – from auditioning, to packing, to actually performing – read on for all my thoughts, tips & recommendations!
I’m not 100% sure when applications opened for REMT 2023, but sometime late in the year – maybe November or December. You’ll want to keep an eye on websites like RSOBHD or SDTA who usually post when the applications are out.
Some things to note: dancers have to be at least 18 to apply, and have to be in Premier. 16- and 17-year-olds may also be considered. There are also in-person auditions in Scotland and the USA, but that didn’t apply to me so I’m taking you through the virtual route!
Complete the application form, which requires you to provide basic information about yourself and why you want to be in the Tattoo dance company. I can’t remember the due date for this either (sorry) but maybe end of the year/early new year?
If your application is accepted, they’ll put you through to the next phase of the auditions which is a video audition. This consisted of a 4 step Fling, 3&1 Seann Truibhas, a choreographed solo, and then some Jig & Hornpipe steps.
This was due towards the end of January, and then I found out in March of 2023 that I was selected. BUT this isn’t a definitive timeline, and I’m sure it changes every year depending on the number of applicants!
56 dancers get selected from around the world, and I was feeling extra grateful to be able to say I was one of them. Doing REMT has been such a bucket list item for me!!
After I found out I was accepted, it was super exciting to see the social media posts of others who were getting in! I had friends and connections from all over that I saw also got accepted, which is a) exciting to get to spend a good portion of the summer with people you know you love and b) a relief to not be walking into the experience totally alone.
I was also joined by a fellow New Brunswicker (shout out to Gen B, I love and miss you), so it made the whole thing even less scary.
In the lead up to the Tattoo, I was mentally trying to wrap my head around dancing on concrete every day for a month, and trying to make sure I could physically do it.
I think most applicants to the Tattoo are still actively competing or at least in dance classes… to which I am neither lol. But I threw in some dance practices to the end of my usual workout routines and I made out okay. Was I in the peak of my dance career before leaving? Certainly not BUT I knew I could handle the dancing, and I had my self-care routine WELL ESTABLISHED before leaving.
Pro tip: start seeing your physio, chiro, massage people, WHOEVER, well in advance to prevent injury. I have a few things that I know tend to bother me when I’m dancing a lot, so getting in to see your people for all the self-care tips and preventative measures is REALLY important before you leave for a full month where you dance EVERY DAY, I repeat, on concrete. It’s tough on the body so be prepared to know how to take care of yourself!
Shout out to my people Dr. Vanessa Blaquiere at The Wellness Zone and my RMT Victoria Buchanan. For any Fredericton people, they will take care of you and keep you moving <3
To give you a timeline of how long you’re gone for, I left July 26th for Edinburgh and wasn’t flying back home until August 27th . During that month, you have 1 week of rehearsals, and then 3 weeks of shows. You have to pack for practicing, performance and then regular person life when you aren’t dancing.
I won’t give you my entire packing list because it was fairly expansive, but I’ll provide a list of some essentials. Note that the directors/organizers will give you a packing list of what you need to bring for the dancing portions (ie. whether you need your kilt, etc), so this is in addition to that list.
- Enough dance clothing for 7 days of rehearsals. I packed 7 x black shorts, 7 x sports bras, 7 x black tops, 7 x white knee socks… etc. The rehearsal days are long so I didn’t expect to be able to wash anything during that week.
- I bought multiple pairs of these shorts before I left and I can safely say they have become some of my favourite dance shorts. Affordable and they don’t roll up the leg!
- Enough black leggings for the whole rehearsal week as well. I would wear these en route to the practice venue, and there was also a couple outdoor practices that you’ll want to have them for
- Black joggers. I bought these from Lulu before leaving and they were the best for slipping over leggings if it was raining, and later used at the castle (more on that later)
- 2 x lacrosse balls for rolling (I’ll elaborate on the need for two later)
- Foam roller
- Roller stick
- Massage gun
- This massage tool because plantar fasciitis struggles
- Icy hot / I bought Deep Heat when I got there as well
- Blochs for rehearsals
- My Hoka’s aka GOOD RUNNERS – you will likely want these for rehearsals if you’re like me and can’t survive wearing Blochs all day
- Lots of KT tape
- A garment bag to leave at the castle (more on this later)
- Your regular hair & makeup stuff BUT I 10/10 recommend magnetic fake eyelashes. You’ll need to wear fake lashes and let me tell you, magnetic eyeliner is WAY EASIER & more comfortable than glue
- Finally, regular clothes for basically any weather you can imagine because August in Scotland is a whirlwind. We had nice weather this year AKA not much rain, but I found myself mostly wearing jeans, tees and tanks, then a light jacket to pull over if needed.
Rehearsal Week AKA Hell Week
I arrived on July 27th early in the morning with the time change. That evening there was a brief dance team meeting to discuss the upcoming performances, give us a general idea of the schedule and what to expect, etc. Actual rehearsals started the next morning.
I can’t remember the exact times for the rehearsal days, but they were survivable, I’ll say that. If I throw it back to my first ever tattoo in Belgium, Edinburgh rehearsals were a bit more tame in comparison. For Belgium, we were trying to prep four dances in a day and a half, whereas in Edinburgh, we had a week to prep the same number of dances.
But like any “hell week”, as its referred to, it’s brutal on the body. You’re rehearsing for long hours and it’s a lot of things to try and mentally remember and then execute well in front of the dance director.
Belgium was more of a sprint and was difficult physically. Edinburgh is more of a marathon and difficult mentally lol.
A rough idea of the week:
- Rehearsals started around 9AM
- Lunch break around 12PM
- Continue rehearsing until 3 or 4
- Supper break
- In the first few days, our evenings were mostly spent figuring out costumes or we would have time to rest before the next day.
- As we got closer to the performances, evenings after 7PM are spent rehearsing at the castle. These were so fun!!
What to expect:
- Rehearsals are in a gym, and there’s a bus that takes you to and from
- On the first day of rehearsals, we started by showing Fling steps, each step one row of dancers at a time
- The first day and a half or so was spent learning the main dance, after which point, you need to know it. Honestly after day one, you should have a good grasp on the choreo, but it’s likely the formations won’t all be finalized
- Over the next couple days, we worked on our other two dances and learning finale (much easier for steps & formations, and also shorter dances) + kept revisiting the main dance
- A few days out from opening night, there are practices outside at Redford Barracks, which has a parking lot that is marked out to the size of the esplanade at the castle. At this point you 10/10 need to know the dances. There will be a day here where there’s a small audience of locals who had to listen to the bands rehearse outside all week. We also had a Royal visit from Princess Anne!
- You’ll then have evening full dress rehearsals at the castle before opening night
My tips for surviving hell week:
- Establish a self-care routine and DO NOT skip it. Every night I got back to my dorm, I would stretch, foam roll, massage gun, and had to lather my body in Deep Heat but maybe that’s just me.
- Preventative taping does wonders! I taped more during rehearsal week because of the long days than I did for shows
- Bring some self-care supplies in your bag to rehearsal – I usually had my massage gun and a ball to roll with
- As someone who really can’t dance for long in Blochs, I relied heavily on being able to wear my sneakers. I brought black ones with me, and only had a few occasions in practices where I had to wear my blochs or dance shoes. 95% of the time I was in comfortable footwear, which helped my feet survive!
- Make sure you hydrate & eat enough! If you’re someone that tends to snack, buy these before rehearsals start as you won’t have time after that.
A Day in the Life of a REMT Performer
After you survive hell week, you are straight into shows for the rest of the month!
We had preview night on August 3rd , which was where friends and family of the performers in the show were able to get tickets (2 per performer), and this was actually one of my favourite shows! The crowd was great and it was so exciting to be doing the dances on the castle esplanade with the lighting & music for the first time, and a crowd of 8,800!
From there, you perform every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and TWICE on Saturday. We also had one Friday during the month that had a double show. This adds up to a whopping 26 shows in 23 days!
A typical day in the life (or at least in my life – I liked to get ready in the least amount of time possible):
Mondays to Fridays
- 7 – 10AM – Breakfast at meal hall (people told me it would become difficult to make it to breakfast on time, to which I was like no way will I sleep until 10AM. But I’m here to tell you: yes. You will sleep until 10AM. Or later)
- Morning/early afternoon – time for exploring Edinburgh!
- Rehearsal (when called) in the afternoon. Usually around 3 or 4PM.
- 5 – 5:30PM Hair & makeup in my room
- 5:30 – 6PM Eat supper at meal hall
- 6 – 6:20PM Get dressed (we had to arrive in what we wore for finale + REMT jackets)
- 6:20PM On the bus for the castle
- 6:20 – 7PM The drive to the castle is not long, but you have to sit on the street beside it waiting for the castle to close to the public (7PM). This time usually involved either (a) drinking an energy drink or (b) taking a nap
- 7PM Bus enters the castle esplanade. You get off the bus and go to the pods (rooms where performers get ready) to get changed into something comfortable
- 7PM – 9PM Walk around, hang out, eat snacks, etc. You’re just waiting around at this point as the show doesn’t start until 9:30PM. If you have family/friends watching the show, you can pop out and visit them at this time!
- 9PM Start warming up
- 9:30PM Show starts! From this point forward, it’s dancing, running, changing costumes and repeat
- 11PM Show ends + performers do the march past from the finale down to the buses and head back to the dorm
Watch the march past here!
Saturdays (double show days)
- 4 – 4:30PM Hair & makeup in my room + get dressed
- 4:30PM Bus for the castle
- 5PM (I think?) Castle closes to the public but performers are walking in instead of buses going up to the top
- 5:30PM Warm up
- 6PM – 7:30PM (again, I think – the times are a bit fuzzy after a couple months away)
- Show #1
- 7:30 – 9PM Hang out in the pods + get some food provided by the tattoo
- 9PM Warm up #2
- 9:30PM Show #2 + same schedule as earlier
Watch the full show
What to Expect + Tips
- There will be a day when you go to the castle for a rehearsal before the shows that they tell you to bring everything you need for the pods. This is because whatever goes into the pods at the start of the run can’t come back and forth with you each night. So you’ll want to bring things like rollers, massage balls, possibly a massage gun, etc. Whatever you’ll need to get ready to dance each night! It’s good to bring two of everything you need for dance prep to Scotland, since half of it will get trapped at the castle
- You’ll want to have a garment bag you leave at the castle, and I kept things like extra white and black underwear, tights, dance shoes, hairspray, etc. in there.
- After finale, you walk straight off the esplanade and down the street onto the bus, meaning you’re leaving the castle in your finale outfit, and your REMT jacket will be brought down to the bus for you that can have your phone and REMT pass in it and that’s it. Which is why you have to be kind of strategic about what you’re going to leave at the castle and what you plan to leave in your room.
You’re going to spend A LOT of time in the pods and just milling around the castle.
You’ll get back to the dorms every night after 11PM, and whether you go to cast bar or not, the reality is you probably aren’t getting to bed until 1AM. On nights I didn’t do anything, by the time I stretched, showered and winded down, it was late. Mornings become difficult the further into the run you get!
Performances get videoed every night and posted to the Facebook group of all the Tattoo dancers. Review and make note of how you did in terms of staying in line, arm timing, etc. This allows you to tweak your performance the following day to continue to improve.
Similar to hell week, do not skip your self-care routine! Usually the last thing you want to do at 11:15PM is a full cool down, but you just gotta do it. I would stretch, foam roll and then massage gun, followed by a hot shower. If I wasn’t going to cast bar, I would
follow this with a large application of deep heat.
Bring something warm to wear at the castle! I brought in leggings, joggers, some sweaters, and eventually an oodie that many of us bought at Primark (10/10 recommend)
There’s soup, rolls, coffee and tea every day provided by the tattoo. I looked forward to my evening tea every day <3 and the soup was usually also a great snack while you’re waiting.
Never be afraid to take a nap on the floor of the pod!
Doing the REMT is definitely a bucket list experience, likely on the list of many highland dancers out there. It’s such a huge production, truly unlike anything else you can be involved with in highland dance.
Performing to a crowd of 8,800 people every night at the castle is so magical, and I doubt there will be many things that can replicate that feeling! I’m so grateful I got to be a part of it.
Being in Scotland for a month is also so fun! You get the days to yourself so you’re able to go explore with dance friends, or if you have friends/family visiting while you’re there, you can spend some time with them during the day. You also have all your Sundays to yourself, so it’s a great opportunity to do something that you don’t otherwise have time to during the week.
Some of my favourite things to do during the month were:
- Hike Arthurs’ Seat
- Go into town – did this basically every day lol. Shopping, get coffee, walk around, etc. Princes Street, the Royal Mile or Grassmarket areas are all good vibes
- Royal Botanical Gardens
- Deans Village – one of my fav days with Zaira and Gen <3
- Calton Hill
- Find the Vennel Viewpoint
- Princes Street Gardens
- Donuts @ Kilted Donut
- Take the train to Glasgow
- Air & craft fair on Princes Street (I think this happens every August!)
And so much more honestly! You can find hidden gems anywhere. + you can take the bus system basically everywhere for relatively cheap, so that was my fav way to get around!
To conclude this mega blog, I would say that doing the REMT is something every dancer should strive for! I know it’s a limited team every year, and it’s tough to get in, but I encourage dancers to apply.
I will say that I highly encourage every dancer to try another Tattoo first, just so you can experience the long rehearsal days and get a feel for what Tattoos are all about. Every other Tattoo around the globe is MUCH shorter than REMT, so it’s a good way to test the waters!
The vibes of Tattoos are always really fun, and you get to meet dance friends from all over. It’s one of my favourite ways to connect with new people in the highland dance community <3
If you made it this far, thanks for reading!! If you’re someone who’s considering applying, I hope some of the survival tips were helpful lol. It’s a long month but so worth it!
P.S Miranda, if you made it to the end of this blog, miss you queen <3 here is your blog shout out, as promised!!!
Other Tattoo Dancer Diaries
Interested in reading more diaries from Saorsa Studio dancers at Tattoos? Here’s a few to get you started!