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Highland Highlights

by Loraine Ritchey

This month finds the continuation of the "older dancer" from the beginner to the returnee. The pluses and minuses . Problems, placement, tuition and competition. Continuing the research this past few weeks it seems that the "older dancer" may be a phenomenon peculiar to the North American continent and maybe within the United States primarily.

Through all the questionnaires, as stated last month, the thread of love of the art form and culture is the common denominator as to why the older dancer dances. No mum or dad pressuring little Johnny or Susie. These dancers are dancing by their own choice. This can also be an advantage to the performer.

Q. What do you feel are the advantages/disadvantages of coming into Highland later than most competitors?


Elheran: Advantages: I didn't have a "dance mother", I paid for my own lessons, kilts etc. I plan to dance for as long as I can. Too many younger dancers are burnt out before they are out of their teens and never want to do anything with Highland Dancing again. Disadvantages: Most Highland teachers are uncomfortable teaching Adults, competing against dancers who don't have to work for a living.

Tim. UK : "I think maturity helps you keep the dancing in perspective. You are dancing for yourself and no one else and as such you succeed or fail by you own efforts. I remember being surprised when a 16 year old beginner snubbed an older dancer who had recently beaten her in competition. Obviously the disadvantages are the aging body and the fact that it seems longer to pick things up."

Dancer A. " As an older dancer I feel I have the best of both worlds. Kids, I don't think understand the heritage they represent. Some children, are being pushed so hard by their guardians, they don't have fun. It wasn't their choice. Because I had shin splints for my entire beginner year, there was a certain amount of time I allotted to stretch (45 minutes) and certain stretches I did helped others did not (because of the age) Some teachers did not understand that as their way was the way they were always taught. I am also more independent being older than most of the other students and can find things out on my own.

Jen: I imagine there are many who will disagree with me, but I feel as an adult I am at a much lower risk of injury because I have learned how to avoid causing it. This may be due to my background as a modern dancer, which stresses alignment. I feel, though that older dancers have had more time to get used to their physical capabilities and limits (and find their balance)

Kamrin: I think I have at least a better appreciation of the art than I did then. I enjoyed dancing when I was younger, but it was different. I didn't have to work all that hard at it and it was more just fun, than anything. For example, I used to drive my mom crazy when I wouldn't practice and then would go to a competition and win. Of course, I did practice (hard) for the big games and it was a lot of work. Now, it just isn't as easy and I can't do the things that I took for granted back then (like extension highcuts)''

Q. For the beginner, novice etc. Do you feel awkward when you are on the platform with a group of children? How are you treated by other competitors, Do you think there is resentment when you place or win.

Dancer A.: " Sometimes I feel weird when I have to go on stage with a 9 year old. Last year in Ft. Wayne, the age group was 9 and over . I took 1st but the competitors were half my size. This has happened in most competitions I went to in beginners. Maybe there is not such a real advantage in beginner, but as you progress up I am able to control my body a lot better than a 9 year old. I feel I have an unfair advantage because I am older. I also get a little bitter at certain organizers that don't appreciate the older dancer.

Dancer B: It takes a great deal of effort for me to compete, granted because I want to . but I don't have the monetary support that it seems most highland dancers have. Someone once told me you have to be fairly wealthy in order to compete at a high level. During my time in pre-premier I tried to go to as many competitions as I could to get the experience. I know that mothers and fathers were annoyed that I was dancing "against" their children, some dancers and teachers have actually been unkind. I don't think they realize that I an older dancer wasn't there to take a trophy away from a child but to see what the judges were about. I don't want to dance with children but unless you go straight into Premier (SOBHD) where you would be in the adult class and competing against champions, and would probably be making a total fool of yourself there really isn't a choice. You send your entry form in and hope that there are enough older dancers entered for your own group.

Dancer C: At one competition I almost went home when I saw the breakdown of categories. 20 in beginner 9 and over. There were at least 5 adults in that group ( over 18) I cannot see why the organizers didn't split the class? I would much rather compete with dancers at least my own size. I can understand if there aren't enough entries to split a group, but how hard is it when there are enough entries?

Organizers and Teachers: I think that now would be a good time to present the case for the organizers. Of the many that were contacted only a couple wished to be quoted. Margaret Callander, Ohio Scottish Games.(SOBHD) Alex MacGuire SOHDA, Shiobhan O'Donnell New Zealand . There were also many who wished to remain anonymous.

Margaret Callander: "Older pre-premier dancers (SOBHD) do not present a problem in giving them an event. I feel very strongly that a younger dancer should not be dancing with older dancers, thus the reason why the entry form states "if we have sufficient entries". For several years we have been able to have a good 16 and over entry for Beginners, the Novice becomes smaller and sometimes we can make an event. This year (June,2000) we had 2 entries and no event in the Intermediate" (Writer's note here) The Intermediate in Ohio this year was 15 years and Under and although just turned 16 a dancer was indeed unable to participate. Apparently considered an adult and it appears that this situation on splitting age groups is totally up to the organizer. As with the 20 dancers put in one group.

John White ( Highland Dance writer) of " Highland Gathering " informs "Dancer" that at the moment Australia to his knowledge does not have the same interest from the older dancer that we are seeing in this country. Alex MacGuire, SOHDA, Scotland also confirms the same as far as the "beginning older dancer" this is somewhat of a rarity, although that being said a great many of the dancers from Scotland , among them the greats, Bobby Cuthbertson, J.L. Mackenzie, Jamie Jamieson, the list goes on and on all continued to dance in some cases into their 60's.

Shiobhan O'Donnell, Academy, New Zealand: " I can really see how a graded system (note. New Zealand has a different set up than SOBHD and SOHDA they are not sectioned off in grades such as beginner , novice et.) would benefit them ( the beginning older dancer). Currently in New Zealand we are split by age with a few exceptions, and this is a disadvantage to dancers who start later. Perhaps this is why we rarely have teenager or adult beginners.

Since as John White pointed out the older dancer has generally more disposable income to promote their interest, organizers should take advantage of the opportunity. However, a word to the wise here if you are planning to compete overseas you should check with the competition organizer in order to confirm that you will be allowed to dance and there is a grouping available for you. Apparently being turned away has happened to more than one older dancer here in the US and Canada.

Teachers: None of which wanted to be identified by name or region, I will respect their wishes on this. The one common denominator here was that the majority with very few exceptions were not particularly interested in teaching the older dancer.

Teacher A. "I find that I have to give the older beginner privates to be successful, although classes are generally small. My experience is that an older dancer takes up too much class time (older dancers seem to ask a lot more questions, this isn't necessarily a bad thing but I have to stop more often) they are usually thinking up to the next level whilst physically they aren't there yet. Also my young beginners are uncomfortable. However, I will gladly teach an older dancer (beginner ) privately.

Teacher B: " I teach competitive dance generally I have found that the older dancer does well in pre-premier but a late start usually weeds them out in the Premier Adult. I have found any older dancer I have worked with is either learning for the sake of performance or in order to get ready for a teachers exam etc."

Teacher C: I don't have a problem teaching the older dancers, a couple have been older than I am. They usually prefer privates and I find since we are on the same level I can explain the mechanics and the whys and wherefores , that goes a lot quicker. Also they want to learn, and are usually hungry for more AND I don't have to nag them to practice.

Teacher D,E,F basically had no problem with the teaching but they had problems when it came to competing especially in the Intermediate group. These particular teachers are in a section of North America that has seen a greater interest in the participation from the older dancer and easy access to their competitions. These teachers have decided to move their younger dancer out of Intermediate section early (usually a dancer will stay in for a year) They do not want their 9,10 year olds dancing out of their age group hence they move them to Premier where the ages are split.

Q. If there was something that you cold change re competitions, what would you change?

Tim UK. In the US and Canada, all our competitions seem to be SOBHD. This means you have to register with a teacher and keep your FUSTA card current, If there were some non-board competitions, they may encourage the more casual dancer.

Elheran: Create a "Masters Class" for older dancers to compete in. A more level playing field for older or returning dancers. Take a look at changing the rules where a returning dancer after 4 years away can come back into one class below where they were when they left, moving up after two wins.

Dancer A: Age groups

Kamrin: I think the competitions have become very sport-orientated, as opposed to artistic. I was somewhat appalled at first ( I am getting used to it now, although I don't necessarily think it's a good thing) at the number of high-level dancers who sacrificed steps for athleticism. I would really like to see an older adults class. We have a lot to offer the Highland community, both in terms of maturity and experience. What a pool of talented people there is out there who if they felt invited and welcome, would be able to contribute time, money experience to the art. There are more adults out there competing than I remember when I was competing, but I think there could be even more. I know a group of dancers who would come back into Highland, if they knew they could compete in an older age group.

Dancer B: I would like to see a large competition such as USIR have a "Open" class where anyone over the age of 21 could dance without being sectioned, restrictions would apply like you have to have been absent from competing for say 3 years in Premier. Anyone who wanted to dance the 4 Highland or it could be mixed with national dances and the judges to give critique sheets instead of medals etc. Even if it were for exhibition purposes only. At least there would be one competition a year where we could all gather together.

To be continued...

Loraine Ritchey,

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

Tel: 440.246.6046