Scottish Highland dancing is one of the oldest forms of folk dance. Modern ballet and square dance trace their roots back to the Highlands. In the eleventh or twelfth century, the Scottish Highland dances were highly athletic male celebratory dances of triumph or joy and warrior dances performed over swords and spiked shield. According to tradition, the kings and chiefs of Scotland used the Highland Games as a way of choosing the best men for their men at arms and highland dancing was one of the various ways men were tested for strength, stamina, accuracy, and agility. The Scottish military regiments used Highland dancing as one form of training to develop stamina and agility, but this has become less common nowadays.
Competitive Highland dancing started during the Highland revival of Victorian Britain and was for men only. Ladies began competing by the turn of the twentieth century. Over the last century the dancing style has become more refined and now shares many elements from classical ballet. Although historically Highland dancing was restricted to males, today it is mostly performed by females. No matter who dances them, Highland dances require both athletic and artistic skill.
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