By Loraine Ritchey
From The Heart- PANDORA'S BOX,
By Loraine Ritchey
The Sunday before Christmas found me sitting on my living room floor surrounded by reams of papers. No, not the wrappings and trimmings for the presents going under the tree but documents and letters going back nearly 25 years on the world of Highland Dance.
This plethora of paper makes up my “active files” stored in a large wooden painted trunk for easy and quick access. My attic holds the more traditional filing cabinet, which is also stuffed full. Journalists will tell you that “hard copy documentation” is a must in case you are called upon to support your quotes, stance or story. Little did I know that in the 11 years I have been writing a “Highland Dance” column the documentation pertaining to Highland Dance would fill more filing cabinets than, theatre columns, crime watch, political reporting or any other aspect of my writing life.
The columns started off simply enough; leaving a championship competition with my daughter in Alma Michigan in 1993 I realized only the local paper was covering this prestigious Highland Championship. The “champions” of the day in dance were being given token coverage behind the pipers, tossers of cabers and vendors. I thought those “champions” of the day might get something in their own local news, the results would be known by the parents who clustered around the posting of the judges marks and to those teachers and studios who were being phoned on the journey home.
Who were the participants of Highland, what brought them to the platform time and time again, what were the stories? So began my “noble idea” of giving the dancers of Highland through my access to the media a place where they too could reach out further than the results page in the following years Games or Dance programmes.
The first few columns were a doddle, human-interest stories about specific dancers, the who, what and where they won, how long they practiced etc. My files empty but for their interview questions fitting nicely in the reporters notebook. Readers of the first magazine to carry the Highland Highlights column “ Dancer” were confused, what is Highland, is it Irish dancing how do I get involved? In my ignorance I wrote a column on what I believed the lay dancer needed to know about getting involved in Highland in the USA. The editorial staff received a “complaint” with regard to that column “ that I had my facts wrong”. The writer (Victor Wesley) was very irate I was told and none too complimentary so therefore the start of my “investigating “ aspect of Highland, the start of the reams of paper, the cluster of filing boxes accumulating in cabinets and my painted “Pandora’s Box”.
My search on that particular Sunday was for a letter from the late Charlie Mill and a quote I wanted to use in another column. My Pandora’s Box is supposed to hold only the information pertinent to current articles. Unfortunately the paperwork confined to the attic frequently is brought down to fill what little space is left in my current files. The Victor Wesley file, the Billy Forsyth File, the SOBHD, SOHDA, NZ, VSU, ScotDance Canada, FUSTA, ABHD, Charlie Mill, Orma Smith, STDT.SGA, SAC, Scottish Sports Council all have at one time been relegated to the attic. Unfortunately for my filing system the events of yesteryear are still current. The people and situations carry through from year through year, the organizations involved, the people may change names or become older but the basic problems and situations have stayed the same. The politics of Highland are still as bad, although seeing more of the light of day and communicated to Highland participants more so now than in yesteryear.
A yellow legal pad stood out amongst the white mountain of paperwork, curious I started reading the notes I had written in 1996. It too was a "beginning of a year column”: -
“ 1997, in three years we will find ourselves in a new century, I wonder if Highland’s politics and posturing and some of the restrictive rules by the largest organization will be a thing of the past?” How sad that I find myself halfway through the first decade of that new century and hundreds of thousands of words, letters from individuals, attorneys, organizations, articles, meetings, posturing and wheeling and dealings later nothing has changed! Oh! some have come and gone, others changed sides, some like Charlie Mill and Orma Smith who spent a lifetime promoting the dances of Scotland and keeping the technique and dances of their respective organizations alive have passed on. The behaviors stay the same, the arguments for and against, the dancing even with more print media and internet coverage than ever before still perks along at the same basic number of participants, and definitely not the 50,000 quoted by some in those reams of papers.
My Pandora’s Box finds files crossing into one another. Scot Dance requests for funding a few years ago, the confusion over who runs the Commonwealth from 1980 letters to last months similar request intertwined with the STDT file and the comments made in their minutes this year similar to ones made by the Scottish Games Association correspondence. Nothing is file specific or date specific; there is no end and no workable system in my Pandora’s box it will need more than I to sort out the mess.
Frustrated, saddened and disillusioned after an afternoon of reading I stuffed the paper work willy- nilly back in the box, squishing back into their confinement the few files still trying to escape and finally managed to close the lid. At the end of the day all I have is a pretty painted box stuffed to the top with so many words and it seems no closure just like Highland Dance. And how do I file Highland under Art or Sport, depends who you interview!
As always for Questions and Comments, I can be reached at
Loraine Ritchey, 1127.W. 4th Street, Lorain, Ohio, 44052.