By Loraine Ritchey
Conversations with Alex McGuire Part One
ALEX MC GUIRE AND CHARLIE MILL
Through the 11 years this writer has been writing a monthly column on the world of Highland Dancing I have had to read and research numerous documents, organisational minutes, and historical happenings as they pertain to Highland Dancing. The intrigues, the ins and outs of political maneuvering the “history of highland happenings” in the past 25 years of paper work has a cast of participants that are still jostling for position today.
In most situations in that time nine times out of ten the name McGuire was there in the mix whether it be the name on a World Championship trophy, or in newspaper reports of challenges to the a World Championship Title or challenges to the rules of the SOBHD. The name McGuire and in particular the name of Alex McGuire has become synonymous as a Highland Dancing advocate.
The road has not been easy, maybe a less tenacious individual would have chucked it in years ago. Certainly it would be understandable there have been less than flattering references to Alex McGuire and the SOHDA over the years such as the letter to The Scottish Games Association and Mr. Andrew Rettie from Mr. Billy Forsyth promoting the registration scheme in the 90’s which effectively closed out the SOHDA and “open “ dancing “ There were always people in Highland Dancing who could not accept that their particular viewpoint was not the wish of the majority. Over the years their numbers decreased (Alex McGuire and SOHDA) “ and stating “the overall total (SOBHD registered dancers) might be as high as 50,000”(letter from SOBHD, Billy Forsyth to SGA).
(Note in response to the above quote Mr. McGuire responded “SOHDA do not register dancers or have a membership requirement for dancers who wish to participate.While the SOHDA do not have a registration scheme we do have a membership scheme covering various grades of membership i.e. Teachers, Associate Teachers, Dancers, General Membership (parents etc.) While we believe that membership of the Association can derive some benefits we DO NOT believe that it should be COMPULSORY. In other words, we do not believe it compulsory to become a member simply in order for one to perform ones ART. Therefore, the claim of numbers of dancers over the years decreased or increased could not be substantiated then or now and was based on one persons opinion in this case Mr. Billy Forsyth
This particular line of argument has been used on many occasions in New Zealand, Sports Scotland, and Scottish Arts Council and recently as 2004 and the STDT Choreography competition. However since the SOBHD “do” register their dancers the numbers worldwide add up to less than approximately 15,000 world wide- a far cry from the numbers “marketed” by the SOBHD through the years unless of course their numbers drastically have decreased since the registration scheme.)” Alex McGuire
Hundreds of letters to Games Associations, Cowal, Sports Scotland, and Scottish Arts Council Highland Games Association fill the files of Alex McGuire. They are the archives of a man who has made the dances of Scotland his life. A letter from another great Highland Dancer and advocate of freedom of the dance Charlie Mill wrote to this writer in January of 1998 explaining the situation in Scotland due to the closing of “open “ dancing. “”I recall a few years ago, Bobby Watson asked us if he could judge at one of our competitions, which we gladly agreed to. He did it and said he enjoyed his day, but a few days later he received a letter from the SOB (SOBHD) banning him from future judging appointments!” “ Threats of punishment, casting aspersions on the quality, capability and motivation of our (SOHDA) judges has become the party line. Alex McGuire (a fellow judge and ex-SOHDA president an outspoken critic of the SOBHD and their attitudes is always a prime target. I would like to add in closing for your information he is a man of great honour, integrity and has a great love for our culture!”
Just who is this man and why does he continue to fight for the freedom of the dances of Scotland? Alex McGuire responds to Highland Dancing:
“My “active” dancing career spanned some 31 years and has, indeed, been exceptionally kind and I thank God for the opportunities that it has presented to me. During this time I danced competitively, did stage and television work and took part in concerts and cabarets in various countries around the world.
Through the Art of Highland dancing I was enabled, because of my Equity card granted through TV appearances, to perform a variety of “Extra Work” on television. I also took to the amateur stage appearing as a dancer in productions such as Brigadoon, Annie Get Your Gun, and Cabaret etc. The countries/places that I visited and did concerts include England, France, Holland, Belgium, Spanish mainland, Majorca, Germany, the former Soviet Union - inclusive of Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Azerbaijan all ending up in Moscow.
In the United States, I performed in Minneapolis MN, North Carolina, various parts of California including, Malibu, Stanford, Chico, Carmel, Santa Barbara, Pasadena, Riverside - Manchester NH and finally in Boston MASS. All of this, despite the fact that I was able to hold down a full time job for which I must thank my employer for giving me the time off although, I tried very hard not to abuse the privilege.
It was after I toured California in 1990 that I decided to “hang-up-my-pumps”. The “physical pain” of that final trip was just too much to bear, with concerts every night and taking almost an hour to limber up beforehand. Being around 45 years of age I decided to quit on my return.”
HD: When did you start dancing and why? How long did you dance, what were the high point and the low point in your dancing years?
AM: “I started dancing at the comparatively late age of 14 years. The reason was because of the wonderful successes of my younger sister, Rosemary. As a young boy I used to travel with Rosemary accompanied by, at first my Mother and, latterly by my Father, to competitions all over Scotland and was utterly “knocked out” with Rosemary’s successes. It was not unusual for Rosemary to attain six or seven first placings – in these days it amounted to every first in the competition. I also traveled to her classes just to see her dance and, when I think back, I was awe struck at her performances. She was so good that she pushed the boundaries of Highland dancing – this was what inspired me!
I began competition dancing at the age of 16 years and my very first competition was at Tomintoul Highland Games in the Highlands of Scotland where I danced in the Adult section. The high point in my dancing years was, undoubtedly, to see Rosemary win all six World Championships, Juvenile, Junior and Adult, which was, at the time, an all time record – I was so proud, as was my Mother, Father and all of her six brothers and four sisters.
For my part, it was in winning the Braemar Championship in 1972 although, it must be said, that in 1971 I was pipped for third place in the Adult World Championship at Cowal. As for the low point – I believe it was when I stopped teaching. I had gotten to the stage when I felt completely burned out. I had started teaching at around the age of 18 years and taught for approximately 25 years. During that period I had taught many SOHDA champion dancers, winning Scottish, British Professional, City of Edinburgh etc championships and receiving top honours by way of best overall teacher trophy several times. However, I eventually got to the stage where I felt that I was not giving my all to my students and in return I felt that my students weren’t giving their all to me. I had been feeling that way for about a year when I finally decided to throw in the towel and passed on my classes to one of my senior pupils. I certainly do miss teaching! Rosemary was/is a legend in her own lifetime so I wanted to get involved”
“There have been lots of negative criticism aimed at me and the SOHDA from various quarters within SOBHD and, more recently NZ were requested to make “no contact” with the SOHDA. All of this has generated an atmosphere of fear in the Highland dance community. I can assure people within the ranks of the SOBHD that I am neither a troublemaker nor a crackpot but I am only fighting for justice and fair play amongst Highland dancers. This appears to be a David and Goliath situation
To be continued…………….
As always for Questions and Comments, I can be reached at
Loraine Ritchey, 1127.W. 4th Street, Lorain, Ohio, 44052.