The Marquis of Huntly is chief of the Gordon clan.
Since the early 15th century, the Marquis has lived in Aboyne castle,
selected for its strategic position near the River Dee and controlling the northern
end of one of the Mounth crossings. The Gordons, major landowners rather than a traditional
tribal clan, were famed for their championship of catholicism and their mastery of horse-breeding.
At the height of their power, the Gordons ruled virtually an independant kingdom in the north east
of Scotland (Aberdeenshire & Banffshire). As tribute to the clan’s immense power and influence,
their chief was invariably known as "The Cock of the North". This nickname, still proudly used,
personifies the cock’s pride and bravery (its proud and boastful noisy cry and its bravery
in battles to the death).
The coat of arms contains two mottos of the Clan Gordon.|
At the top it reads "Bydand" which translates to "resilience" (or "remaining").
On the bottom it reads "Animo Non Astutia" which means "by courage, not cunning."
The wild boar’s head appears on the Gordon arms because, legend says, the first Gordon
saved a Scottish king from an attacking boar.
The tune "The Marquis of Huntly’s Highland Fling" (also known as "Ladies Ancient Fling") is
the Gordon clan dance. It was composed on violin about the year 1794 by George Jenkins (1760-1806),
a Scottich dancing master who died in London. The word "fling" has appeared at least since
the 16th Century in Scottish literature to describe a vigorous kick movement in dancing
when the dancer dances on each leg alternately, and flings the other one in front and behind.
But the phrase "highland fling" did not appear in print until 1794 with the publication of
the tune in G. Jenkins 1st collection and may well refer to a type or style of step rather
than a dance. The first clear reference as a complete dance called the "Hielan Fling" occurs
in 1824. It was first introduced to dance competitions in 1841 by the Inverness Northern Meeting
Games. The modern day Highland Fling takes as its basic foundation "The Marquis Of Huntly’s
Highland Fling", given in the "Hill Manuscript 1841" (full title is "Frederick Hill's Book of
Quadrilles and Country Dances Etc Etc", dated March 22nd, 1841) one of the most important
documents which relate to the history of the Country Dance in Scotland.
As with the Sword Dance, the Highland Fling is probably the oldest of the traditional dances
of Scotland. The origins of the solo dance are obscure. It seems to be a compilation of some
of the strathspey setting steps used in a reel.
A common story is that the dance was performed on one spot as a warrior’s victory dance
on his targe, a round shield with a long spike in the centre around which the dancer would
dance flicking the feet, jumping and careful stepping supposedly to drive evil spirits away.
Agility, nimble footwork, and strength allowed the dancer to avoid the sharp spike.
For this reason the kings and chiefs of Scotland used Highland dancing as a way of choosing
men as it tested them on agility, strength, stamina and accuracy. |
Scottish regiments used Highland Dancing as exercise to keep the troops in shape,
and ready for battle. The dances are indeed excellent exercise; for example, in a typical
six-step Highland Fling, a dancer will jump vertically 192 times (the equivalent of running a
mile), while performing complicated and intricate footwork, and using the muscles from head to toe.
Highland dancing is therefore akin to sprinting, with dancers using fast-twitch muscle,
which is also required by soldiers.
If the Highland Fling is originated as a vigorous and exultant wild dance of triumph following victory in battle and inspired by the capers of the stag
(the dancer’s upraised arms representing the animal antlers),
it is now highly stylized and calls for the greatest skill in technique and exactness of timing.
The dancer is expected to execute crisp, precise movements with foot pointed, knee
turned out, arms held steady and the apron, or front of the kilt, hanging flat.
Despite the variety of steps, it should be danced throughout in the same position on the board,
perhaps because originally the Highland Fling was said to have been done on the shield of the clansman.
So, to be an accomplished Highland dancer, it is necessary
to have the grace of a ballerina and the strength of a gymnast…
It has become the classic solo dance at modern competitive dancing events, and is often selected at competitions to decide who will be judged the best Highland dancer of the day.
Originally only men were allowed to do these dances. In the late 19th century a young girl
(10 years old) named Jenny Douglas decided to enter a Highland dance competition.
As this was not expressly forbidden, she was allowed to enter. It was a shock for everyone
when the first female Highland Dancer took to the platforms to do battle with the men.
She made so much of an impact on the scene, dressed exactly as the men, that shortly afterwards
other ladies took up the idea and the seed was sown.
They adopted the look of a male soldier, with military dress and with their hair pulled up
and off the neck in a high bun or a French braid. This also gave the dancer a clear view,
allowing them to maintain the correct body alignment throughout the dance.
Later during the World Wars, women began dancing more often desiring to preserve
their rich culture and history, while the men were defending their homeland.
Since then the number of females participating in the sport has increased until
today in excess of 95% of all dancers are female.
In 1952, the Aboyne Games sponsored a more feminine costume for girls based on seventeenth
and eighteenth century Highland dress for women as seen in portraits of Flora MacDonald.
Ladies’ dances such as Flora MacDonald’s Fancy, the Scottish Lilt, and the Village Maid,
were introduced to the repertoire as ‘national dances’, to offer hand movements where ladies
would hold their skirts and, above all, more feminine dances using a softer, more balletic
style rather than the more military style used by the earlier male dancers.
Might one say that the women have entirely adjusted the dances to suit their own preferences?
It may be noted that the distinctive hand position where the thumb is in contact with the first
joint of the middle finger has been retained. This hand position is said to have emerged from
a story told through dance by a young boy. When out hunting he found himself unable to kill
the beautiful deer and when he returned home with no food he could not find the words to describe
how beautiful the stag had been so he danced instead, his hands held aloft like the antlered head
of the stag. This hand position has been retained by the female dancers as a distinctive and
attractive element… an additional opportunity to be admired by the boys when they dance…