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Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey


V is for Volunteer! By Loraine Ritchey


The world of Highland dance has many letters designating and identifying the organizations involved with the art form. SOBHD, SOHDA, P&DA, FUSTA etc. None of the organizations would be capable of existing with out the letter “V” which stands for that wonderful and dying breed “ the volunteer”


FUSTA (Federation of United States Teachers and Adjudicators) certainly appreciate the work and effort put into their organizations prestigious United States Interregional. Without the volunteer there would be no championship.


The USIR is held every year in a different region of the United States, which has been divided into 6 regions. The USIR is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the Highland Dancer in the United States; it is their “National Championship”. In order to even get to this place a dancer has gone through the levels of ability, beginner, novice etc and finally has reached the top of their competitive level “Premier”. The Premier Dancer in their various age groups cannot just enter the USIR they have to enter the championship for their designated region of the country and they have to place either 1,2 3rd in that championship (with a bye for previous years USIR champions). It is only then that the dancer is eligible to compete in that year’s USIR.


The dancer, parents and teachers then sort out the logistics of getting to the region for the big competition. After the dancer receives the prizes on the platforms they and the parents are given a package of information, the hotels, the times, dates the who what and where. Packets all geared to make the journey easier for all, put together over the previous months by the “volunteer”. As soon as a region is designated the teachers, parents dancers and judges in whose region the competition will be kick into high gear to make this a memorable occasion for all who are entered.


This is an exciting and prestigious time for the entrants and every single USIR committee over the years wants the dancer to come away with wonderful memories. They are proud of their region and want each dancer, parent etc. to enjoy a taste of their home. As each area of this vast country is different USIR committees try and make the uniqueness available to the participant.


The participants also have the added pleasure and responsibility of not only representing themselves at this competition but indeed the region they represent. The camaraderie not always prevalent at other championships comes to the fore with the USIR. This aspect of the event is always foremost in the minds of the people who “host” the championship, and “host” they do from welcoming gifts and information, a dinner put on for the regions and their champions, afternoons for the parents to mingle, teachers meeting making sure no one is left wondering, arranging for the all important practice rooms the list goes on and on. All this falls into the capable hands of the volunteer.


My particular parent memories of the two I attended with my dancer and ones I have covered since for the column still bring warm memories. It takes a great deal of time, commitment and talent for a dancer to reach the level that enables them to walk in and be introduced with the parade of champions. It is also a proud moment for the parent and the teacher without whose help and guidance and abilities this wouldn’t be possible. The host regions volunteers have shared that moment with their own dancers or are hoping to, this is why the events take on a special significance because the people involved treat the entrants and family how they would like to be treated.


Publicity surrounding highland events as a whole is somewhat lacking for various reasons, so when a publication or writer takes the time to cover an event such as the USIR the committees look forward to the story. Unfortunately, for the USIR Denver hosts the article was not what they had hoped to read. “Gob-smacked!” is a term that comes to mind; not exactly Celtic but an English term meaning “jaw drops to the floor”!


Those of us that have produced, directed or performed productions on a professional level have had occasion to shake our heads at the “critic’s review”. Nearly every theatre and dance critic on the circuit, initially panned Riverdance, however the audiences loved it and that negated all the critics unkind words. The audiences just didn’t pay attention to them.


However, in the case of Highland dance it is a misunderstood art form from the media perspective, most writers think they have been asked to cover another Irish dancing show. So when “Denver Volunteers” had one of their own, a mother of a Highland dancer competing in Denver, (one whose own region recently hosted the USIR) “in house” to tell their story they were surprised at the comments when the article came out in print in a specialized Highland Dance magazine.


Lynn McCulloch, USIR 2002 Chairperson Denver USIR writes. “. For the past four years our dancers and dance parents worked at the Denver Bronco football Games selling concessions. This required a 12-hour commitment standing in the cold on concrete floors, 10 people at a time. Depending on the sales our commission was approximately $5 per hour per person. We raised $10,000 we put into the USIR “kitty”. The Kansas City dancers had many fundraisers donating another 2,000. On top of that each Southwest school contributed to the “goody bags” given to dancers at the USIR every morning.”


The committee begged donations to cut cost and even with donated labor and materials the first staging built to the new SOBHD requirements for safety etc still cost $3,000. Volunteers spent many many hours in those four years to make their year run smoothly. Added to the USIR it was the USA’s turn to host the North American Championship, which is open to Premier Dancers from the USA and Canada, Scotland etc. This event is held one year in the USA and the alternate year in Canada, usually held on the Sunday after the USIR’s Saturday’s competition. So every other year the host region for the USIR has extra work involved with another prestigious competition and 2002 found the Southwest region hosting the two Championships.


Dismay and disbelief when they read of comments with regard to Denver’s Altitude since the committee had diligently worked to educate the participants in this area. “Why put dancers at risk or handicap in the first place by having it there? (Denver) was the question asked.


Mary Beth Klein (nee Miller) two times World Champion and teacher states “Teachers and parents knew and were well aware of the altitude problems well in advance. The Denver committee did an excellent job of providing detailed information about the altitude in packets given to the representatives (dancers) as well as additional lectures in Denver. Several dancers admitted they did not dance enough prior to the competition in that altitude. I took my student early to “train” by increasing her dance time daily in the altitude. As with other athletes, dancers are expected and should be able to adapt and dance in many conditions otherwise why would you consider having a World Championship in Scotland when it’s cold and raining most of the time in August!””


It seems the efforts of the volunteers to entertain the parents with a special tea and the location of a teachers meeting room, temperature (mid 80’s to 90 with single digit humidity) the ambiance of the Western style Barbeque,the number of Canadians participating in the North American Championship and other minor inconveniences did not apparently meet with the writer of the article “standards”.


However, James Lomath of California writes, “As director of Celtic Spirit, the dance company who sponsored the C. Stewart Smith Rock Mountain Fling dance off this article distressed me “ Lomath continued “ I do not believe the nationalities of the dancers who compete make or break the championship” The end result at the weekend was absolutely wonderful – I could not be happier!”


The years of carrying the dance bag and accoutrements in 100-degree heat with double digit humidity or the pouring rain flooded back into memory. The thought of having a “Scottish High Tea” and toilets with plumbing, let alone the rest of the events that were sent to me, sounded like heaven to this writer.


Highland parents have all been there and we are usually a pretty appreciative bunch when our own kind (other Highland parents) do all they can to entertain and act as our hosts. Does the critique cut to the quick because the source was one who should have understood all the difficulties faced by the South West region she being a Highland parent? Would the critique have been as detrimental if the writer was one of the “uneducated in the world of Highland” that usually cover such events? Would it have disappointed quite as much if she hadn’t been a “guest”? A good “host” never wants to have a guest leave disappointed. Denver and the parents and dancers of the USIR can stand proud and remember it is the “audience that counts and not all guests are grateful”


North Carolina and Grandfather Mountain Games will be the place to meet this years USIR champions July 10-13 the date to circle on the calendar.







As always for Questions and Comments, I can be reached at

Loraine Ritchey, 1127.W. 4th Street, Lorain, Ohio, 44052.

lritch7@yahoo.com

ritch@adelphia.net

          

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