Dirk Dance

A dirk dance is a Scottish dance performed while brandishing a dirk. It is a solo dance but can be performed by two or more people dancing in unison. The dance is quite different in style from the better known Highland dances and in many ways imitates the use of a dirk in fighting. Research suggests that the dance may, in fact, have originated as a series of moves for training in the use of the dirk.

The dance was recorded by J. F. & T. M. Flett in their book, Traditional Step-Dancing in Scotland, after they learned it from Mary Isdale Mac Nab of Vancouver. She in turn had learned the dance in the 1900s from Scottish piping & dance champion, D.C. Mather.

Highland dance was also performed with other weapons including the Lochaber axe, the broadsword, flail, and paired targe and dirk.

The Highland Dirk Dance resembles a combative dance similar to those of Indonesian Pentjak Silat, which has the performer executing knife techniques combined with wrestling style kicks, trips and sweeps.

One version of the dance involved attacking and defensive techniques with single-sticks and targe shields and was last performed in Britain in 1850 by two brothers named MacLennan, one of which was a colleague of Mr Mather.

Another dirk dance, now lost, involved two dancers. In this dance, one is “killed” with the dirk, but then resurrected by his/her sorrowful partner. A dirk dance from the Isle of Man was also recovered by Manx folk researcher, Mona Douglas. In this version, the dancer wields a dagger.

In Indonesian & Filipino Martial Arts when the training & carrying of weapons were proscribed by the Dutch and Spanish invaders, the local people turned their forms into dances which they also performed with sticks.

In Scotland there were several attempts to proscribe the weapons of the Highlander, a number of ‘dances’ using sticks are known to have been practiced during this period, these include the ‘Bruicheath’ or Battle Dance and the ‘Dannsadh Bhiodaig’ or Dirk Dance. It’s also interesting to note that surviving Highland Dances with the arms held high, the footwork and low kicks, look very much like the trips & sweeps used in the various forms of Highland Backhold and Viking Glima wrestling.