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6 Surprising Life Lessons Everyone Can Learn From Scottish Dancers

You don't need a self-help book to learn there's more to life than turnout and pointed toes.

Photo: 2014 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Scottish Highland Dancers like myself spend years being reminded to point their toes, correct their positioning, and jump higher off the ground, but these technical corrections are only the surface of the things I learned through dance. When I was younger, I used to laugh when my teacher would tell me winning a medal was "just the icing on the cake" at a competition. Now, as a young adult, I find myself examining my personal qualities and being surprised by how many of them were a result of my years of lessons, training workshops, and competitions. This list is only a handful of those characteristics and lessons-learned, and I believe everyone, Highland Dancer or not, can relate to what I learned from my years of practicing and competitions.

You can be friends with your competition.

Even at a cutthroat dance championship, there's always a rush of warmth when a friendly face flashes you a smile and a "good luck." Separating oneself from the tense atmosphere where everyone wants to be the best can be difficult, but it has provided me with a sensation of relief in situations of job interviews, auditions, and at work. Each person around us in those circumstances is aiming to do their own personal best, just as we are. Whether these people become our friends or enemies is up to our mindset. We can choose to see our competition as our evil rivals, or as peers we can learn from. Highland Dancing has made me much more likely to choose the latter.

You can't always push through the pain.

So many Highland Dancers have had to face a difficult decision: whether or not an injury is bad enough to take them out of classes for the month. Sure, in some cases, being able to battle through mere exhaustion can show your strength, trying to fight pain can make things worth. As a recent grown-up, I've learned that some things, like jobs where you're treated like crap, or toxic friendships, are more exhausting than what they're actually worth. Knowing where to draw this line of emotional or physical tolerance, and being able to say "no more," is such a valuable skill.

There is a rich history behind everything in the world.

Who knew a sword could represent a life or death situation. It does in Scottish Highland Dancing. Literally. Anytime someone shares a weird fun fact in class, I get an urge to tell them the history of the Blue Bonnets (if you're unfamiliar, look into Scottish Dancing history, it's incredible stuff). The truth is, different cultures hold such value in their own symbols and art. Learning more about these trifles from one another can bring all of us a little closer and remind us of just how human we are.

You can't prepare for everything.

Thunderstorms at an outdoor competition with no tents. Being late to a performance due to a traffic jam. Sometimes, there's nothing you can do, but that's okay. At that competition, you took a deep breath and carried on. You can do the same when you're late to work, when you lose something important, when your presentation partners don't show up to class. Keep calm and Strathspey on.

Hard work is more important than talent.

There will always be that one dancer that seemingly came out of the womb doing 180-degree leaps. A secret you learn after years of dancing and competing: they don't matter. All of us have the potential to be extraordinary in our own way, even without those picture-perfect highcuts. The process of self-evaluation, goal-setting, and efficient practice time will get you further ahead than a dancer who has it all sorted out at their first beginner competition. That persistence will carry you so far in school, in your career, and in life.

Making a mistake isn't the end of the world.

Okay, so, kicking the sword you're dancing over is... embarrassing. And kicking it at a major championship in front of a world-class judge? Yikes. You messed up. The secret Highland Dancers learn? It's alright! Sure, getting through the Sword effortlessly makes you look good, but so does kicking it and not running off the stage crying (oh, but don't worry fellow Scottish dancers, we have all been there at least once). The best display of character is how you handle your mistakes, and Highland Dancers, more often than not, keep smiling, bow at the end of the bagpipes' tune anyways, and carry on with poise and grace.

Once you're a Highland Dancer, you're always a Highland Dancer. I'll always feel my heart warm when I find an opportunity to brag about how I dance over swords and wear pounds and pounds of wool in 80 degree heat outdoors at summer competitions. It's been a few years since I've regularly attended lessons and practiced, but to me, it doesn't matter. I am a Scottish Highland Dancer, and I am oh so proud of the fact. 

If you found yourself appreciating the important lessons on this list, whether you're a Highland Dancer or not, be sure to share it with your friends! Happy Highcutting, and don't forget to point your toes.

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