Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

Questions for Chairman SOBHD Please give a brief background…. How long you have been involved in Highland Dancing What prompted you to join the “organizational aspect” of Highland? offices held, how long you have been Chairman I have been involved in dancing in various forms since the age of 4. I consider myself fortunate in having had Highland lessons from 3 of the greats –Willie Cuthbertson, May Falconer, Elspeth Strathern. I started teaching at the age of 16, became an adjudicator at 21 and an examiner with the SDTA at 23. I am a member of the BATD, SDTA and UKA. For many years I represented South Africa on the SOBHD, then teachers and judges from California and latterly Australia. I was voted in as Chairman in 1996. As a school principal of 18 years, it seemed logical to go into the administration/organisation side of dancing and put something back into the organisation which has supported me as a dancer/teacher/adjudicator. We are all unpaid volunteers in the SOBHD! What dancers of yester year in your opinion were among the greats? From over the past 30 or so years: Gregor Bowman, Laura Carruthers, Michelle Cumagan, Loma Henry, Sandra Kennedy, Christine Lacey, Jennifer Lindsay, Irene Mackechnie, Ann Milne, Deryck and Gareth Mitchelson, Celia Orr, Fiona Perry, Ailsa Simpson. However to this list I must add - all highland dancers who have left us have left their mark in some sort of fashion as they passed along this great tradition, to many of todays dancers, teachers and adjudicators around the world. As Chairman of the SOBHD what is your vision for the future, what direction would you like to see the SOBHD take. Take Highland Dancing into the future using the technology of today while keeping the long held traditions alive. We should retain as many of the old regional variations of dances/steps, not necessarily for competing purposes but for a complete history of Highland Dancing which could be produced by the SOBHD with everything in it including steps/dances/dance masters/administrators etc. An Online library of this information could be posted on the SOBHD website. The primary role of the Chairman is to facilitate the meetings ensuring all points of view are considered before reaching a democratic decision. Do you think the various organizations “outwith the SOBHD” such as the VSU, SOHDA and Academy have a place under the “World Governing Body” aspect of the SOBHD and what ideas if any have you in trying to implement that happening. Do you feel there are “fences to be mended” and what as an office bearer do you see needing to be done to get everyone at the same table considering the diversity of the organizations. Yes, the door is always open and swings both ways. There must be a reason that the majority of Highland dancers around the world are dancing SOBHD. No one is holding a gun to our heads. Acceptance of any other organization is always welcome but within the SOBHD rules and regulations. We must always maintain the historical integrity of the past 50 plus years. Many people in the past sacrificed a lot to get us to this point in our history of Highland Dancing – I would consider this a part of my role as Chairman to ensure the past work was not done in vain. Would you openly support reforms of the SOBHD constitution to enable other non-affiliated organizations dancers to register with the SOBHD and dance at their championships –? I would support any reform that brings about positive change while maintaining the historical integrity of the past 50 plus years. Yes, change can be positive and Highland Dancing must look at its current constitution to ensure that it will meet the requirements of today. Remember this constitution has evolved over the past 50 plus years. There are always reasons to change/add/delete to meet ongoing circumstances. Do you think there is a greater need within your organization to give parents and dancers more of a “direct” voice? Their voice is heard on many levels. Many home and overseas organizations have been operated by parent organizations and continue to do so. Their contributions to Highland Dancing must not be minimized or overlooked, especially overseas. They are primarily the reason Highland Dancing has survived overseas along with demonstration, teaching and examining tours by the past dance masters of Highland Dancing. Do you feel the present allocation of voting is sufficient or does there need to be a reevaluation The Board constantly reviews its operation and is currently looking at this as we speak. Any new ideas/concepts must be well thought out and not rushed. We must move forward carefully with the entire SOBHD family of organizations/individuals being democratically involved. The SOBHD as an organization has been the subject of “negative” publicity in recent months. Is there any particular area that you wish to address in that regard……. .Any comments you wish to make stating the SOBHD’s position that contravenes or explains any of the situations as they have been written that you feel may have been misleading to the general public? The negative publicity to which you appear to be referring comes from non-SOBHD supporters – that is life! It also seems to be your own articles and features in Dancer and Celtic World. The majority of the information in my view is inaccurate and based on biased individuals with an axe to grind. In particular much has been made of statements made by Mr Victor Wesley who has in my opinion spent so many YEARS saying THESE things THAT he now believes THEM to be true. Specific articles eg in Celtic World appear to suggest that many people are making money out of the dancers, which is patently untrue. The majority of people in dance associations are unpaid volunteers – Board members for example – and our Highland Dancing community could not exist without them. Every sport requires technical specifications and consistent administration and these need to be funded by participants. After all it could be said that Loraine Ritchey is making money from dancers by writing articles about them, as I presume you don’t pass on your fees to the subjects of your interviews! For the past 10 years there has been an off again on again situation concerning Mr. Victor Wesley and his claims against the SOBHD and in particular FUSTA. The latest the filing of a complaint May 25th with regard to the closed door policy and perceived monopoly of a “non profit in the USA” and FUSTA requiring members who either are members of the SOBHD or it’s affiliates. Also on the same date a complaint was filed with the INS in regard to SOBHD members entering the USA without benefit of work visas. Are you aware of this situation and any comment? The Board has no ongoing dispute with Mr Wesley. Mr Wesley is fully aware that he would always be welcome to join the SOBHD through existing methods e.g. by joining a recognized examining body and the Judges Panel by sitting the judges examination in the same way as everyone else. Mr Wesley applied to do so before and then subsequently withdrew his application. No one to my knowledge is saying he is not welcome but he like myself has to join in the same fashion as everyone else. Mr Wesley is not any more important than anyone else past or present who is associated with the SOBHD. His input would be welcome but there is a well established protocol in joining the SOBHD either as a dancer or teacher or judge. Mr Wesley has chosen not to do so– he is not bigger than Highland Dancing! The SOBHD has not been made aware of any official complaints by Mr Wesley during this past year. (I understand that you, Kathy Rowan and Aileen Robertson all SOBHD did in fact take private lesson with Mr. Wesley In Ayr is that correct?) I cannot speak for Katie Rowan or Aileen Robertson but I never had a lesson private or otherwise from Mr Wesley. Highland dancing in general has come under some criticism (in my column especially) with regard to the lack of proper teaching of the mechanics of the body What would you like to see (if any) from your organizations or it’s affliates in further education of the teachers of Highland. As an educator myself, I firmly believe in the value of education. I see this as the primary responsibility of all examining bodies to cultivate the education of its members. Many conferences, particularly in North America, incorporate sessions on physical development and training methods and many dance teachers are also now professionally qualified in these areas. The demographics of Highland dancing participants has changed over the last few decades and the “dance sport” has become very youth oriented .Is that a good thing in your opinion? Would you like to see more males back on the platform? In fact the demographics have changed very little in the past 40/50 years. Although the majority of dancers are juvenile you will always get individuals who will continue to dance and compete longer. A review of the entries of the major events of 40/50 years ago show a similar age pattern to those of recent years. It wasn’t uncommon to have juvenile sections of 90/100 competitors at Cowal Highland Gathering in the 1960/70’s. We would all like to have more males back dancing but we must accept that after WWII this dance form has taken off with females more than males. We should note the great male dancers who continue to contribute to Highland Dancing – Gregor Bowman, Billy Forsyth and Deryck and Gareth Mitchelson to name a few and today there are a number of juvenile male dancers continuing the tradition – more are always welcome! Do you think the SOBHD as an organization needs to “reach out “ more to the participants of Highland i.e. Newsletters and informing the dancing public of the decision making process of their dancing organization? The reaching out is going on as we speak …..newsletters, websites, books, video are being produced by several organizations throughout the world. Not to mention the workshops and dance camps going on. It should be remembered that the SOBHD was formed in 1950 through a wish by the major Highland Dance Examining Bodies (the earliest formed in 1896), plus other teachers and leading dancers in the UK at that time, to have a Supervisory Board, comprising delegates from the many different organizations involved in Highland Dance, which could lay down quality standards for all areas of Highland Dancing, technique, movements, steps, championships and administration. The main function of the SOBHD has always been to bring about co-operation between recognized associations, organizations, individuals and dancers connected with Highland Dancing and it has done this very successfully. It is the organization in the Highland Dance world which the majority of people turn to for advice and information, represents the vast majority of those involved in Highland Dancing around the world, and is accepted by them as the World Governing Body. NZ/Balmoral GamesFirst of all there is no 'Balmoral Games'. There is however the Royal Braemar Gathering, which traditionally the Royal Family attend. This information has obviously come from the late Ian Cameron of New Zealand and there are many comments in his letters and notes of the time which would be disputed by others of that era. One example, his assertion that Bobby Cuthbertson and a small group at 'Balmoral' asked to meet him to try to build an organisation such as existed in New Zealand. Anyone who knew Bobby Cuthbertson would question whether Bobby would ever ask for advice from someone in New Zealand, or indeed any overseas participant in the dancing world. Ian Cameron's story of Bobby Cuthbertson leaving the 'Balmoral' Secretary's tent from underneath the back of the tent due to the problems that day is comical! That tent has been in the same position for at least the last 50 years and there is a wire mesh fence right at the back of the tent, part of the security cordon for the Royal visit.How much was Ian Cameron's knowledge of dancing in Scotland? He certainly had contacts in Scotland, but mostly in the piping world. By the way, Ian Cameron also suggested that the original SOBHD text book was based on New Zealand Academy records. This would certainly come as a surprise to the original Technical Committee of the SOBHD who laboured long and hard to produce a text which reflected all the various styles of Highland Dance in Scotland. That Committee comprised many of the leading dancers and teachers of that time and included representatives of the Dance Teachers Organisations e.g. BATD, SDTA, UKA all of which had a Highland Exam syllabus and examination system of their own. Shepherd and Wedderburn The only letter from Shepherd and Wedderburn was a request some time ago for a copy of the SOBHD accounts. Our solicitor asked them for whom they wished a copy and was advised that is was for Shepherd and Wedderburn themselves. You should be aware that in UK by law all such requests must say for whom the accounts are requested, so we must assume that this request had nothing to do with Mr Wesley. I am not aware of any other correspondence from Shepherd and Wedderburn. May FalconerMay Falconer sat and passed the Judges Examination in the same way as other judges. I have no idea who her solicitor was. Grandfathered etc.If you are suggesting that to join the Judges panel some applicants did not need to take the examination, then the statement is complete nonsense. TeachingPerhaps it would be prudent to compare Mr Wesley's age with mine to see that he would not have been in a position never mind qualified to teach me! RegardsShendl

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

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




Make your own free website on Tripod.com