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Scotch Sword Dance
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Sword Dance
(note: any dance that uses, swords, sabres, knives, daggers etc. will be listed on this page. There are literally hundreds of sword, rapier etc dances, way to many to list. This page describes some of those dances.)    The basis of the Sword dance comes from the Spartan Pyrrhic dance (Armed Dance) and the Roman / Troy games. The sword dance was done in Nuremberg in 1350 as well as the Court ballets which also used the sword dance in mock battles that were staged. The Sword dance was one of the first dances to be performed by all nations. The dances today are usually done in teams.

   The Scotch sword dance (Gillie Callum) also developed from the Pyrrhic dance around 1058 AD. (See Pic. on left). Folklore has it that MacBeth murdered King Duncan I in Elgin, near Glamis Castle in 1040 to seize the thrown and ruled from 1040-1057. King Duncan's son, Malcolm III of Canmore defeated King MacBeth and upon his victory, Malcolm snatched Macbeth's sword, placed it on the thrown . King Duncan's son, Malcolm III of Canmore defeated King MacBeth

and upon his victory, Malcolm snatched Macbeth's sword, placed it on the ground and his own sword crosswise atop it, and performed an intricate dance in jubilation. Malcolm became the new King of Scotland with his family ruling until 1093. Under Malcom's reign, Scotland began the transformation from a Celtic to an English culture.

   There are many different varieties of the sword dance. Such as the Danse de Bouffons, Double Sword, Longsword dance, Celtic Bacchu-Ber, the Rapier, etc., and the Germans called it the Tacitus. Sword dances performed by the guilds of Smiths and Cutlers in Nuremberg are recorded all the way back to 1350. 16th century records of sword dances survive from all over Germany. Depictions of dances that survived from Zürich (1578) and Nuremberg (1600). In Scotland a dance was recorded as being performed even farther back to 1285, (but this was found in a document from 1440.)

    In Egypt, the sword dance was done by the female dancers who were called Gtawazee. Wikipedia says: "Female sword dancing, or Raks al sayf, was not widespread in the Middle East. Men in Egypt performed a dance called el ard, a martial arts dance involving upraised swords, but women were not widely known to use swords as props during their dancing in public. However, paintings and engravings of the French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme (who visited Egypt in the 18th century) show sword dancers balancing sabers on their head. Sword dancing, (Raqs al Saïf) is widespread in Turkey, Pakistan-India and Iran. Women’s sword dancing evolved out of sword fighting between men in Egypt and Turkey. There was even a time when sword dancing was banned by the Sultan during Ottoman rule, as it was believed that dancers who took a sword from a soldier and pretended to “kill” him at the end of the performance collected the swords to begin a resistance against the army. These swords were never returned." (end wiki).

    Sword Dance and men's ceremonial dance with swords, exist in four main varieties. Combat dances with swords (for example, the ancient Greek Pyrrhic dance) were used for military training. Circular guerrilla dances with sword play occur in Turkey and the Balkans. In Scotland (the Ghillie Callum dance), the Balkans, India, and elsewhere, one or more dancers perform intricate steps over two swords crossed on the ground. Midwinter hilt-and-point dances, once wide spread in Europe, survive in England, the Basque Country, and a few other places. In these dances, a circle of 4 to 20 or more dancers-linked by holding the hilt of one sword, the point of the next-leap over the swords, twist the circle, and weave the swords into a knot. If a folk play or its remnants accompany the dance, the knot may be placed over the neck of one character, who "dies" and is magically revived.

    The dance is then varied by dancing around two swords laid across each other on the ground, and while performing the various steps in the angles formed by the swords they are picked up, and the exercise is continued with a sword in each hand. This dance is variously modified, but the sword exercise is the characteristic feature in all its forms.

    The Bacchu-Ber is another Sword type Military dance from the Celts. The Egg or Hop Egg Dance was similar to the Sword dance. One of the earliest dances of Bohemia was also a Sword dance.

   Kulu religious dances performed by men before palanquins in which idols are conveyed and in the presence of the Raja, In the polo in Tibet region, mock sword fights take place there between two combatants, also sword dances with two crossed weapons laid on the ground, precisely like the sword dances which are performed at Highland gatherings.

    Danzas de espadas, (a Spanish Dance) in which the dancers clothed in white cloth and armed with a sword, flutter to the sound of instruments.     The Goathland Plough Stots or sword dancers are from Yorkshire, England, They are mostly unemployed men who employ their time by dancing and performing acrobatic stunts for charity. Their musical accompaniment consists of a violin or a concertina, or other musical instrument. They are named Goethland Plough Stots as in the olden days, when healthy landlords refused to give them anything they would take plough and plough up the ground in front of the house. Plough Stots of Goathland, Yorks, England, at the end of a sword dance.

    Morris or Moresca dancers use the sword dance in some of their routines as well. Usually called the Rapper" but is probably a mutation of the word "rapier", or perhaps it comes from "scrapper". These swords were designed especially for dancing, and served no other purpose. Two forms have been revived in England— longsword and rapper. Both were once common in the north of England. Dancers are linked in a ring holding the swords and the dance form is distinctive for its fast, elegant weaving figures, dancers passing over and under the swords whilst remaining linked. At times the swords are interlinked into a woven knot, known as a lock or nut (see photo at bottom of page), which is strong enough to be held up by one of the dancers, then returned to all the dancers who grab the sword handles, unlink the swords and continue the dance.

According to Wsolstice Site: "These Rappers are constructed of flexible spring steel, with a fixed handle at one end, and a handle that's free to rotate in the hand of the dancer on the other. It's understood that The rapper sword dance first arose in northern England in the towns along the river Tyne. The Rapper Sword dance was done exclusively by miners, called pitmen. The longsword dance is slower and less flashy, but the figures have some similarities to the rapper sword movements. The earliest reliable historical report of a rapper sword team is from Earsdon about 1800. There are also records of dancers at Winlaton from the early 1800's. Most researchers agree that the rapper sword dance probably evolved from an earlier longsword tradition in the late 1700's (for more info see here). The dance itself consists of a series of very fast figures where the dancers, and the swords, weave in and out of one another, often forming Rapper Sword Lock "tangles" of swords, which are then untangled by the dancers, who conclude each figure by forming a "nut" or lock of swords, as in the illustration below. The rapper sword dance was introduced in America before World War I, and is often performed here by Morris dancers, or by other groups who specialize only in sword dancing. Iin England, the dances are traditionally performed around Christmas time." (end Wsolstice)

    Of the characteristic national dances the "sword dance" of Scotland is still danced at times as an exhibition of skill, and is one of the most perfect and symmetrical in all its parts. The dance was undoubtedly originated as a war dance and designed as a sword exercise. The dancer is required to keep time to the stirring and lively music of the bagpipes while he performs the various movements of a complicated sword exercise.

    The Double Sword dance could be done as a solo or a duet. The dance is learned by using something other than a sword, like a board or stick, or a mark drawn upon the ground. The arm movements are the same as the Highland Fling.

    According to Middle Eastern Dance website: "Belly dancing with a scimitar can only legitimatly be traced back to American roots.  It became popular in the United States in the 1970's.  Jamila Salimpour's troupe, Bal Anat used them as a prop, balanced on their head, as part of their routines for the California Rennaissance Fair.  Jamila is reported to have gotten the idea from the famous (at least among belly dancers) painting of a Ghawazee by Jean Leon Gerome."


Birth Place

Creation Date


Dance Type

Scotland 1058 Malcolm Canmore War
[ Photo1 Photo2 ]

Posters, Lobby Cards etc.

Sheet Music Covers

Various Music Titles
n/a Saber Dance 1559 - Perth Glovers' March
      Sabre Dance (every time I hear that) Bacchu Ber
      Sabre Dance (1948) Andrew Sisters Bobby Shaftoe
      Sabre Dance (from Gayenne) Bonniest O' Them A', the
            Calling-On Song
            Drunken Drummer, the
            Fill the Stoup an' Keep It Clinkin'

Free Music Download

Fisher Laddie, the
      Ritual Sword Dance Footy Agyen the Wa'
            Girl I Left Behind Me, the
            Here's Woody Garius
            Irish Whisky
            Keel Row, the
            Napoleon's March
            Oyster Girl, the
            Puddle the Butter
            Sabre Dance (Khachaturian)
            Sabre Dance (Beethoven)
            $ Sword Dance (Brigadoon)
            Sword Dancers Song
            Tenpenny Bit, the
            Three Jolly Sheepskins
            Thro' the Lang Moor
            Warkworth Castle

Academies, etc.



1823 - West Point Military Academy n/a Egypt
1824 - Captain Partridge Academy       Nuremberg
1825 - American Institute       Perth
2000 - Bichunmoo (Dance With Sword)may have sword dance       Rome, Troy

Films / Movies


Ballets / Stage

1898 - Highland Cross Sword Dance n/a Brigadoon
1914 - Fire and the Sword???        
1/5/1944 - Pathe Newsreel: "Scott's Dancing"        
9/4/1947 Pathe Newsreel: Clans Gather At Cowal Games        
1966 - The Sword and the Lute???        
$ 2000 - Bichunmoo? (Dance With Sword)      


Gayaneh       10/4/1881 - Ill. London News
            2/16/1894 - Westminster Budget
            10/20/1902 - Black & White Newspaper (UK)
            1915 - Graphic Illustrated Newspaper
            2/22/1960 - Sports Illustrated

Other Related Dances of the time...

legend: ~related, *=prop, #=knives/daggers, blank=sword/sabres
Armed Dance Highland Fling~ Military Dances Schwertertanz
Aran Sword Dance (Scot) Hop Scotch game~ Military Two-Step
Bacchu-Ber Hopak (Ukraine) Morris Dance
Belly Dance Jig~ Pyrrhic
Bubble Dance* Khevsuruli # Sabre Dance
Calusari (Romania) Kılıç Kalkan (Bursa) Scarf Dance*
Chinju kómmu   Khukri Schwertertanz
Choliya Killie Kallum (Ghillie-Callum) Serpentine Dance*
Danse de Bouffons Limbo Dance* Spadonari (Sword Holders - Italy/Alps 1926)
Danse de espadas Long Sword Dances Swalwell Sword Dance (guizards, 1911)
Dirk Dance Mainstyr (Master Sword) Sword Dance of Papa Stour (Scot)  
Double Sword Dance Matassins Tai Chi sword dance  
Fan Dance* Mattachins War Dances   
Fire Dance~ Mexican Hat Dance*    

Dancers, Choreographers etc.


1058 - Malcolm Canmore 2005 - Meera (Pakistan) Charles I (1600-1649)
1823 - Pierre Thomas   King MacBeth
1831 - MacGlassan   Malcolm Canmore
    Queen in Perthshire (Scotland)

Musicians, Singers etc.


Poets / Writers

Andrews Sisters M. Gerome 1788 - William Henderson (w)
Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770-1827)        
Sousa, John Phillip (1854-1932)        
Khachaturian, Aram (1903-1978)        
Les Baxter and His Orchestra        
Love Sculpture (1963)        

Books, Magazine Articles on the dance...

Title Writer date Publisher
Sword Dancing in Europe: A History Corrsin, Stephen 1997 Hisarlik Press
Sword-dances of northern England Vol.1, 2, & 3 Sharpe, Cecil James (1859-1924) 1911 Novello Press

Misc. Research Words that may be related ... to help your searches

Almeh, the Dagger Lowland Scot Rapper (Rapier)
Bag Pipe Dirk Military Sabre
Bayonets Epee (danse des epees, Arab) Mock Battle Saltatio Armada
Bealtaine Gtawazee Pa De Basque Sayif (=Sword)
Chorus armatus Hilt-and-point sword dances Pyrrhic Scimitar
Combat Kendo Rapier Sirens of the Desert Dance
  Knife   Wang Chang / Sila's Grudge Dance
... Amazon Sword Dance Search

Other... Basic sword layout's: diagrams below:

Diagram for Double Sword Dance   Morris Sword Lock  
Scottish Double Sword diagram: (See top photo using this diagram above)   Morris Sword Dance - Sword Lock diagram or "Tangle"  
February 18, 2013
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