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Origins of
Cape Breton Step Dance

Cape Breton dance originated in the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland. The Scottish emigrant community in Cape Breton (an island off the northeast coast of Canada), Nova Scotia, preserved this dance tradition almost unchanged for centuries... dancing it in their kitchens and at ceilis (kay-lees: Gaelic "party") but it was nearly forgotten that the dance was Scottish. Some researchers argued that it was simply an offshoot of Irish step dance.


Step dance had all but died in Scotland by the 1960s... only a handful of people alive remembered it's being a part of highland culture. Artists from Cape Breton have travelled to Scotland to teach and learn in the last couple decades. See the tullochgorm link at the bottom of the page for an account of just how much interest and controversy this has provoked.

How Cape Breton Came to Oregon

The short story is... Dixie Campbell. Dixie is the director of Dance of the Gael, a group that does traditional folk dance from Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton, She also teaches beginning and intermediate Cape Breton classes.

"I have danced Scottish and Irish for many years and had heard rumors of Scottish step dancing, but always came to a dead end in locating a person that actually knew how to do it.

After years of searching I finally was invited to attend a workshop in California taught by Mary Janet Macdonald from Cape Breton. Mary Janet is wonderful dancer and has taught in Scotland, Canada and the USA.

I didn't begin step dancing intending to teach. Teaching became necessary as more and more people heard of "Scottish hard shoe". Unlike Irish hard shoe, Cape Breton step dance is not competitive nor is it done in any particular order. It is a solo dance style that provides the percussion for music and is done with the arms relaxed and the steps close to the floor. Cape Breton step dancing is done for the enjoyment of the dancer."


Dance of the Gael

Traditional Celtic Folk Dance

Scottish Country Dancing
Scottish Soft Shoe
Cape Breton Hard Shoe
Irish Set Dance
Irish Ceili
Sean Nos (Old style)



Cape Breton Classes

Call 503-704-7337 and leave a message if you'd like more information about beginning or intermediate Cape Breton classes or about the performance group, DANCE OF THE GAEL.

Or email:

The intermediate level class performs about once a month with DANCE OF THE GAEL.

Performances include such venues as Portland Highland Games, Scottish Heritage Festival, and Pacific Northwest Highland Games, World Beat Festival, Kelso Highlander Festival and the local pub when the music is good.





Cape Breton and other Gaelic links. The article on Scottish Step Dancing is mostly devoted to Cape Breton Step and is very in-depth.

Links to Cape Breton musicians.

Portland area Scottish and Irish dance information site

Portland Ceili Society: active Portland Celtic culture group and sponsors of the 3rd Friday Ceili at the PPA.




Updated: December 15, 2001