Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

This article appears in Celtic World Sept.2001 and October 2001 Dancer. There were other dancers performing for the Princess Royal at another function. These were the dancers of the SOBHD, unfortuantely I was unable to include them in the article as I was not able to get any information or photos of the event.

The dances and dancers of Scotland and Royalty, Dancer this month continues with the sharing of the dances of Scotland and the Royal Family. Readers of last months issue will recall the Hullachan Dancers performing for HRH Queen Elizabeth's son Edward and his wife in Qatar. This month's column will focus on the daughter of HRH Queen Elizabeth, the Princess Royal, Anne who was the guest of honor and recipient of Scottish entertainment

So often when we think of Scotland's dances we think of the Highland dances and the competition dances. Scotland however, is rich and diverse in her arts, there is so much more to her dance heritage than the few competition dances with which we are familiar, the fact of which I was recently reminded. Upon leaving the shopping mall in England and following the sound of the pipes I came across Scottish Country Dancers performing the Gillie Callum or Sword Dance in the square in Beckenham, Kent. They were previewing the entertainment of the following day "20th International Folk Dance Festival". I did attend the next day's entertainment and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The thought struck me as I watched the young and old performing the dances just how diverse the dances and dancers of Scotland's heritage. A thought I would also think crossed the mind of the Princess Royal as she watched the SOHDA dancers recently at the 20th Anniversary of Strathcarron Hospice. Gillian Whitelaw writes to tell Dancer of their 'Royal Performance'

"The Princess Royal visited Falkirk on 23rd June as a guest at the 20thAnniversary celebrations of Strathcarron Hospice. Strathcarron is a hospice in Forth Valley region of Scotland, which takes patients from all over Central Scotland It, is funded entirely by funds raised by volunteers. Now in it's 21st year the hospice has been supported by Princess Anne almost since the onset. In honour of the event, a new country dance was composed called "The Strathcarron Jig"; it was composed and conceived by John Drewry of Aberdeen. The dance also had two new tunes written " Strathcarron Jig" and "Randolph Hill" for the piece (Randolph Hill is the name of the brae in Denny where Strathcarron Hospice is situated). The Gillian Whitelaw School of Highland dancing was invited to provide dancers for the event and were honoured to be asked to perform the Strathcarron Jig at it's premier performance. Members of the dance school attended on the day and performed many traditional dances and dances written and choreographed by Gillian Whitelaw.

The main event, the premier performance of the Strathcarron Jig was performed by 7 members of the dance school, Eric Thomson, Mark Webster, Christopher Munro, Emma Walker, Debbie Muir, Charmaine Elliott, and Lauren Muirhead, and the 8th member of the team was John Collins, a teacher member of the S.O.H.D.A. who has his own dance school in Coatbridge near Glasgow.

The boys danced in their traditional Highland Dress while the girls performed the premier, in new dresses designed by Gillian, specifically for the occasion. The dresses were made by Sue Gillies of Stirling and are made of rich colours, which are bright and colourful and reminiscent of the atmosphere around the hospice. This is felt by all those who come into contact with the hospice; by the nurses and doctors who give the care and by the patients and visitors who visit the hospice.

The dresses included the tartan _ Dress Wallace, Dress Braveheart, Lavender Longiddrey, Green dress Menzies, Dress Bruce of Kinnaird, and Dress Gillies, the contrasting materials were then chosen to match the tartans. Most of the Tartans were chosen as they have local significance. Bruce [Bannockburn], Wallace [Stirling], Kinnaird [Stenhousemuir], Menzies [Plean] all these places being within the dance school catchment area. Princess Anne displayed a great interest and delight in the dancing and had an informed, brief chat with Gillian and the music composer and musician on the day, Tommy Ford of the Jim MacLeod Band"

Here we have a case of Highland dancers also performing Scottish Country dances and in the case of "The MacLennan Scottish Group" a primarily Scottish Country Dance group performing Highland. As always with Scotland's dances and history one question leads to another. Whilst watching the performance of the Maclennan Group and the Gruppo Folkloristic Citta Di Borgosesia (Italy) the children of the "Upland Junior School", Bexley Heath, England also dances of Scotland and the Irish dance performances of "Henaghan -James" I was struck by the sheer enjoyment and sharing of each culture and performance. The dancers of the Maclennan Group started the afternoon by totally involving the audience in their dance and enjoyment. I did notice that when the Highland Dances were performed these were executed by the male performers. However not having the "weight " of competition to think about the enjoyment and sheer love of what they were doing shone through. Another fact that struck me especially with the Scottish Country dancers and even more so with the "Gruppo Folklorico" was the mingling of all age groups. The very young with the not so young all performing the dances of their heritage together the elder leading the new generation through the culture. It was very special to watch.

Upon my return to the USA I contacted through the "highland dance list" individuals with regard to the Scottish Country dancing and "step dancing, Scottish style". Well I was looking for the simple answer, wishful thinking I am afraid. I realized just how very little I know about the dances of Scotland. So like the "Mothers and Others" series it looks like the next few columns of "Highland Highlights" in Dancer will be bringing readers more on the non competitive dances of Scotland.

You may contact the Maclennan Scottish Group through their web page www.msg.org.uk and the Gillian Whitelaw School through the e-mail address GILLIAN@whitelaw-dancing.demon.co.uk or through the offices of the SOHDA. Pauline Knox, Sec. 36, High Street, Dunbar, East Lothian Eh421JH Scotland.

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

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




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