Dance Steps for the Highland Fling

by Michael Monet
The Highland Fling is performed to bagpipe music.

The Highland Fling is performed to bagpipe music.

Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images

Highland dances are some of the oldest forms of folk dancing, dating to the 11th or 12th century. The Highland Fling traditionally celebrated triumph on the battlefield and was performed by males returning from war victories. Warriors also performed this dance prior to battle to test their stamina and strength. This dance is highly athletic, technical and takes considerable time to master.


The Highland Fling begins with a bow, called "Shedding." Stand in first position with the heels of your feet touching together and your toes pointed out to either side of your body. Place closed fists on hips, elbows flaring out to either side. Bow down to waist level for three counts, stand up for three counts. Next, come to point in first position by standing as high on your toes as possible. Getting into first position and standing on your toes is a skill that will come with time and increased strength and flexibility.

Aerial Position

The fling movement consists of standing on the ball of one foot with the knee slightly bent for bounce, while kicking the other foot out to the side with the toe pointed, or second position. From this position, remain balanced on the standing toe and bring your kicked out foot to your standing knee, your opposite knee now in an angular position, or aerial. While bouncing on the standing foot, alternate the ball of your angled foot from the back of the knee to the front. Counting "1-2-3-4," place your kicked out foot to the ground on one, move your foot to the front of the knee on 2, back of the knee on 3 and front of the knee on 4. After this four-count, kick out the standing leg and repeat the process on the opposite side. Retain a slight bounce throughout the movements by bending your standing knee. Perform three times, alternating sides, before moving onto the turn.


The turn occurs in aerial position. Once you've completed your third cycle of the forward aerial position in Section 2, bring your closed fists to your hips, your elbows flaring out to either side. Alternating your toe from the front to the back of your knee, turn around on your standing foot in a complete circle using three bounces. With counts, place your kicked out foot to the ground on one, bring it to your standing knee in aerial position on two and hold fists to hips and turn on two, three and four. Alternate your foot from the front to back of your knee simultaneously on two, three and four. Repeat on the other side of the body.

Toe and Heel

The toe and heel is a basic highland move incorporated in the fling. Practice by getting a good bounce with significant height on your toes in second position. Once you have significant strength to bounce high, attempt the toe and heel. Just as the name suggests, bounce up and point the toe of your supporting foot to the ground. On the next count, place the heel of the supporting foot on the ground. Do these for a four count, then alternate and repeat on the other side.

Putting It Together

There is no concrete progression for the Highland Fling. Once the above moves are mastered, dancers can mix them together to bagpipe music in a random but ongoing order. The goal is to keep dancing while the bagpipes are playing. This takes incredible athleticism, strength and practice, especially when attempting to point your toes in first and second position for the first time. Perform aerials, turns and toe and heels back-to-back until the song is over. On the last count of the song, bring your heels back together in first position and bow again.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images