By Loraine Ritchey
NOTE LR: The course of recent events led to the following articles unfortunately after writing the first part of the article a situation happened which has caused me to write the "Highland Play". I would ask Mums and teachers and organisations to please remember it is the dancers who ultimately pay the price for questionable decision making,
Highland Games (Off and on the Field) A Commentary by Loraine Ritchey
Those that frequent the Highland Games, no matter the country, will invariably end up at the dancing platform for at least a little while. They will see children milling around checking socks, and kilts, freshly scrubbed faces, hair drawn back off the face, shiny and clean. Young men trying to get the tilt of the hat just right. Mums fussing over the way the "costume" looks and Dad with the inevitable camera. Judges sitting at the tables, feet tapping in time to the piper. Teachers giving last minute instructions to their competitive students on what they should remember. The thud, thud, thud on the wooden platform as the dancers performing for the judges land (hopefully on the beat). A spectator looking at these children in their various stages of dancing development, might wonder at the effort that goes into training the child, the teachers, the practicing, the travel, just so a" Highland art form" can be perpetuated by the youth of the culture. They might be amazed at the strength and graceful lines of the adult dancer, but I believe they would be even more amazed to learn that these "darlings of the dance" are a commodity.
Yes! a product to be exploited and fought over with tactics that make the CEO's of Enron look tame by comparison. After all Enron was about "energy" this commodity is "children of the dance" How many parents realize just how important their son or daughter is to the "organizations of the dance"?
For the child of the dance to mount the platform in competition, various things have to happen. A teacher and lessons for which there is of course, a fee. Workshops and medal tests all money earners. Kilts, socks, shoes, vests, blouses jackets, jig out fit, hornpipe, Aboyne again money being spent. There is of course the travel and expense some within the country and in the more prestigious competitions such as Cowal, international travel and accommodations reaching into the thousands of dollars if you are journeying from USA, NZ, Australia or Canada. Yes the dancers help the local economy with the lodging and food. Then there are the judges needed to adjudicate the dancers. The piper to play for the dancers, the volunteers for the platforms. The tickets to the games and entry fee for the competitions. Fees for the adjudicators, travel expenses the list goes on.
We have a dancer ready to perform, the commodity. Behind this child is the "organization" the largest of which has gained that status, in this writer's opinion, by restrictive practices, game playing, questionable marketing tactics, threats of punishment and unofficial innuendo. A World Governing Body of Highland Dancing making sure the world of Highland dancing tows the line. Who gave them such a title? No one! The title is self proclaimed and was added to their letterhead without benefit of governmental or indeed the sanction of other dancing bodies. The World Governing Body title is on par with accounting practices for World Com and Enron, nothing to substantiate. However that title has been instrumental in opening many doors, marketing and dictating as to who can dance and who can't.
Why? Is this dancing lucrative? Well it seems that for some it is. Travel paid for by various studios and games associations for adjudicators around the world. Workshops and adjudicating jobs. Medal test fees, registration fees. Little holidays paid for by the dancing public. Could this be the reason the SOBHD has in the past required that those (such as NZ) in the 90"s had to agree to not have any personal dealings with other organizations or their membership as a prerequisite to joining the SOBHD. Minutes referring to the fact that a persons knowledge in the history and dances of yesteryear not be used as he was friendly with "non Board people". An organization made up of housewives, secretaries, bureaucrats none of whom "earn their living in the world of dance" dictating to those that do and have done such as Victor Wesley, who and what they can teach and where their students can dance. Sound silly?? Well it is a fact! It seems from the information that I have gathered throughout my 9 years of writing about Highland dancing this behavior has become the norm rather than the exception!
Why ? Can it be that little dancer is bringing in so much money? I don't believe so I believe it is the power, the little niche in the world that gives these people who are in most case the "hierarchy" of the Board, a perception of power. It certainly isn't because of the heritage or the dance itself because if they truly were putting the dance and the children first then they would be embracing others of the dance and the dancers helping to perpetuate the heritage. The majority of the Highland games in Scotland have gone along with "enabling" the SOBHD in the use of their tactics why? Money? Power? Prestige? Again SOBHD has the USA and Canada which means the dancers coming in are bringing in the dollars. They have, in this writer's opinion, been sold a bill of goods as to actual numbers of dancers. The marketing ploy of WGB and Billy Forsyth's comments of 50,000 has turned heads. Did anyone ask to see the "accounting" of those numbers or the sanctioning of the WGB? No I don't suppose they did? Maybe because they are too trusting or maybe because they don't really want a truthful answer.
Ronnie Cairns, Cowal from Celtic World 2002
"Fairness of any competition requires regulation and it is Cowal's duty to abide by the vast majority of highland dancers. Those who claim they are being discriminated against may have the solution in their own hands. In registering with an association who is a member of the SOBHD they put themselves in position of negotiation and influence on the rules & regulations they would abide by. In taking these steps all can compete with the worlds elite highland dancers at the undisputed world highland dancing championships at Cowal Highland Gathering."
"Cowals duty to abide by the vast majority of Highland dancers" Considering that dancers have no direct say within the organization SOBHD and no direct vote "HOW" can Cowal know this? Not one dancer in the many that I have spoken to has ever said we only want to dance against SOBHD dancers or was ever given the opportunity to say Yea or Nay! In fact it wasn't till very very recently dancers were even aware that Cowal was closed to other organizations. Who took the vote and where and when to make this decision?
The "worlds elite"??? There are some who would beg to differ, who in fact gave the dancers of the SOBHD the "worlds elite title? Since the only dancers allowed to compete at the "World's" are SOBHD how would we know? Join the club, because that is what the SOBHD is a private organization or club with affiliated members that have been sanctioned as non-profits or as friendly societies. However the SOBHD itself has no such sanction or recognition. They are according to the Inland Revenue and government agencies A CLUB!! A private group dictating and running non profits and telling which of Scotland's children can dance at games that receive funding from the taxpayers of Scotland. They decide just who can dance in Canada and the USA and other countries to exclusion of those not "in the club".
SOBHD Cowal Champion Hugh Bigney, the only native born American to win the Adult at Cowal, himself a professional dancer said recently "the highland clearances continue within the hearts of the many children that attempt highland. It is no longer about the land or the culture or the people, rather, it is for the parents and the teachers. I feel that highland continues to be plundered by the capitalists in this country, the bourgeoisie that mistake money and power for talent. The meaning of "folk" dance, that is, dance for and by the folk. When I see young and old, male and female, rich and poor, enjoying the work, not for competition solely but for fun, then I could embrace "highland" again."
Board members plying the lists on the internet, posting as themselves and also as nom de plumes in which to ridicule and insult and divert attention away from the main topics when the conversation gets too close to the truth. Whilst at the same time showing the smiling charming face under their real name. Typical of the games that are played and have been played over the years. Is it any wonder credibility has to be questioned by this writer and others? Let us not forget the dancer, the dancer who is at the centre of this storm of controversy, and the all-important thread upon which the Highland world hangs and spins. The Highland commodity! The child of the dance who unknowingly perpetuates the behavior by wanting to learn and compete the dances of their heritage. As they step on that platform do they have any idea of what is going on in their name?
The opinions expressed by this writer are her own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publications for which I write.
The following is response to children who entered the "wrong competition" ( names are witheld to protect the dancers but are known by the writer)
Hypothetical Highland Play (OR IS IT?) by Loraine Ritchey
Cast and casting notes
Mother A… SOBHD (cast…. a typical Highland mum, dealing with costumes, forms and fees)
Two children… ages 10 and a bit older (fresh faced little girls who love to dance their Scottish heritage)
SOBHD (cast… the typical committee members type)
The Tattle tale (cast a shadowy figure)
Dance organizer of Highland Games (volunteer type also harried and overworked)
Mother B … non SOBHD (cast…. a typical Highland mum, dealing with costumes, forms and fees)
One child of Mother B (fresh faced little girl who loves to dance her Scottish heritage)
Mother A (SOBHD) entering her children in dance competition for the season gets confused with the competitions titles… there are British Open s and British Opens, the competitions of Loch Lords and Loch Ladies… enters her children in a "wrong" competition (deemed so by the SOBHD) One of her children actually wins a trophy.
Scene one " The Ride Home"
Mother A.." you both did so very well and I am so proud of you both , your leaps were wonderful today and , you see all that practicing has really helped in your fling… the judges noticed that that is why you got the medals"
Child 1. " Will Daddy be home when we get there, can I show him my sword and what I did today… how I didn't kick it or anything?"
Child 2.. " Can I show Nana and puleeze .puhleeze it won't be too late can I ring Auntie Jean and tell I got the trophy?
(Stage Directions) cheerful banter and giggles continue through the ride home
Scene 2. "The Phone Call"
Stage Directions: Phone rings Mother A... picks up receiver:
Mother A. " Yes this is Mrs. Smith, I don't understand what do you mean …. Jenny can't keep her trophy, why?…. .the wrong competition. but she won it fair and square… can't dance anymore until the meeting to decide whether to ban them … Please….. what do you mean we broke the rules, it said open competition ? Both children aren't allowed to dance .why ..what do you mean they were "reported" they are children!!! ….. I didn't know they weren't allowed to enter a dance competition? (Stage Directions mother should be confused and upset whenever the "someone reported them" is used shadowy figure should be seen lurking downstage.
Scene 3 "The Explanations"
Two children enter the room.
Mother A: "Jenny, Susan, I am afraid you will have to give back your trophy Jenny to the games"
Jenny " But Why?"
Mother A. " well it seems that mummy made a mistake and entered you in a wrong competition"
Jenny " didn't I win the trophy then? ( SD child is getting more upset, tears welling up in her eyes)
Mother A .. " Yes darling of course you won, the judges thought you danced very well, that your dancing deserved your marks, you did nothing wrong… you just aren't allowed to dance with those other little girls or have those judges judge you"
Jenny…" Why, are they bad people?"
Mother A. "No of course not, they dance and practice just like you do but the group we belong to says we can't dance with them?"
Mother A. " I don't know, but someone has complained that you and Susan danced with them and now we have to give back the medals and trophy and they told mummy that you both can't dance until there is a meeting"
Jenny and Susan…. "But they are ours we earned them"
Scene fades to black with children in tears and a mother trying to explain the adult rules
Scene 4 "The Organizer"
Stage Directions:Organizer answers phone:
Organizer…. " Yes, Mrs. Smith I remember you of course and how is your little dancer? Has to give back the trophy..WHY…. Oh I see the SOBHD won't recognize her win … I don't know how you explain that to a 10 year old..someone reported the children as having danced? You are trying to appeal…. I am so sorry .yes it is a very distressful and sad situation. (Hangs up phone shaking their head in disbelief)
Organizer…. On phone to Games Committee member……
" Yes well I just have had a phone call from Mrs. Smith telling me she has to return the prizes awarded to her children…...yes the SOBHD rules forbid her children from dancing in other championships other than their own….and she has been advised to return all prizes. ..yes….. I know that the child won her prizes at the discretion of the judges, but they don't recognize those judges… why? . Beats me they are as capable and certified as anyone of the SOBHD's ( ….politics I should think….) they obviously felt the children danced well enough to receive prizes… you would think SOBHD would be pleased… I don't know what we can do; the situation is out of our hands I have to award the prizes to the next child in line in the points….. Yes I agree a terrible situation and terrible for the child…." HOW do you explain it to a 10 year old??"
Organizer on the phone to Mother B
Organizer… Yes hello Mrs. Brown, this is the organizer of the "Open Games" there has been some confusion and your child will now be receiving the trophy in her age group… No there wasn't a mistake in the points scoring …. The child who received the trophy cannot keep it, as she isn't allowed to dance with the children at our Games or be judged by the judges we hired. Sorry, I can't explain that situation you would have to ask the SOBHD. Yes I have heard that dancers from New Zealand are allowed to dance but again that is a different rule for them .Yes I agree it is sad….. No, I wouldn't say then that you child is getting the trophy because someone else didn't want it… the child just can't keep it. Well get back to me then on what you decide…..
Scene 5: "Trying to explain"
Mother B and her child Heather
Mother B…… "The people who ran the competition last month have just phoned and said they would be sending you the trophy"
Heather " Why?'
Mother B.." well the little girl that won it has to give it back"
Mother B " it seems she isn't allowed to dance with the little girls in your group and people have told tales on her for doing so and now she has to return all her medals and the trophy, so since you are next in line you will have them"
Heather " doesn't she want them, she won them, why can't she dance with me ?…… she seemed nice are we bad people ?"
Mother B " I am sure she wants her trophy and I don't know why she isn't allowed to dance with you darling that is just the way the rules are and NO we are definitely not bad people"
Heather " Then WHY don't they want their dancers dancing with me, did we do something wrong?
Mother B. continues to try and explain as the curtain comes down to sounds of children crying, mothers explaining and committee members discussing punishment as the shadowy figure hovers ……..
As always for Questions and Comments, I can be reached at
Loraine Ritchey, 1127.W. 4th Street, Lorain, Ohio, 44052.