Highland Dance Origins Thousands of Years Old
Alma College Highland Dance Director Kate DeGood will lend her expertise to a Scottish arts video project coordinated by the St. Andrews Society of Detroit.
Funded in part by a Michigan Humanities Council grant, “Preservation of Scottish-American Cultural History in Storytelling and Dance” will feature three half-hour video segments. Each segment in the project will focus on a specific aspect of the Scottish experience in the United States.
“In my segment, I’ll explain the historical traditions behind highland dance, as well as the modern impact of the sport as it exists today,” says DeGood. “I’ll also discuss the technical aspect of competition in terms of judging and categories.”
Kate DeGood performs the sword dance.
The 2007 alumna has acquired more than 80 career highland dance championship titles throughout the world. In addition to competing, DeGood teaches at Alma College and the Kilgour Scottish Centre. She also lectures, teaches workshops and judges competitions throughout North America.
“I think what appeals to me most about highland dance is that the dances, steps and technique haven’t changed significantly for hundreds of years,” she says. “There’s a lot of tradition behind the sport. The music is still the same, and so are the costumes. Highland dance is really about the dancer’s athletic and artistic skill.”
While the origins of highland dance date back thousands of years, DeGood says the current steps used in performance weren’t formally documented in Scotland until the 1950s.
“There were no formal qualifications for being a highland dancing judge prior to the ‘50s,” she says. “If you were competing in one region, judges might have liked it if you kicked your leg as high as you possibly could. In another region, judges might have preferred a more graceful movement. It became difficult for competitors to advance in their technique.”
Even with her extensive highland dance knowledge, DeGood often learns new and interesting facts about the art. She says she has plenty to share with the St. Andrews Society, the oldest organization of its kind in the country, while filming the video project.
“This past fall, I attended a conference where the teacher talked about how her uncle did the sword dance as a military training exercise,” she says. “The dance demands a lot of endurance, so that makes sense. By sharing stories like this in the video project, I hope to make the Scottish arts more accessible to people who are unfamiliar with them.”
Posted: Mon, March 19th, 2012 at 2:08PM