by: Loraine Ritchey
Victor Wesley: Three time World Champion, Cowal, 1968, 1969, 1972. Over the past few years I have had the great pleasure of speaking with Victor in regard to the dance and the Highland. His sense of humour and passion for the dance transcends even electronic communication.
Highland Gathering readers will be aware of the situation at Cowal Highland Gathering in 1969 where one of the dancing organizations (SOBHD) pulled their dancers and support from the competition. In fact, the SOBHD then held their own competition in Gourock proclaiming that as the World Championship. The next year SOBHD was back at Cowal and Cowal came under the auspices of the SOBHD. Does it matter that 1969 (over thirty years ago) has two people claiming the Adult World Title? The Ohio Scottish Games this year advertised the fact that Angus MacKenzie, Canada was the 1969 Adult World Champion and the 1st North American to win the title. Ah "there's the rub" as Victor Wesley, now of Wilmington Delaware and this years
Judge at Braemar, also claims his right to the title. Not only does this situation affect yesterday's dancers but more recently the claim to 1st North American status and also the Junior and Juvenile titles of that year. The dancers signing up for workshops at the Ohio Scottish Arts School being taught by the 1969 World Champion, some would take exception to that advertising. Cowal, in fact has as the World Champion in1969 one Victor Wesley. Once again dancers are penalized for "organizational politics". The repercussions still affecting the dancing world today. I interviewed Victor on behalf of Highland Gathering and John White:
Victor, was born in Glasgow in 1948, he is now 52 but laughingly tells me "looks 35". Dancing under Maureen Davie(BATD) and Jean Mackie (SDTA) he first studied ballet and tap and won numerous awards. However it was to Mrs. Cameron, that Victor credits his early Highland training. His Highland influenced by such greats as Bobby Cuthbertson, May Faulkner, Sydney Black, Jean Telfer , Jamie Jamison. "Sydney Black, told me I spoke with my eyes, of course being very young I had no idea what he was talking about, it was only later that I realized the eyes do indeed speak. These are the people who inspired me with passion and drive to be a champion. If I were to be stranded on a Desert Island these are the people I would like to be with, people who have influenced my life, people who had great respect for one another like Jamie Jamison and Madam Helene Antonova . We are merely the "custodians" of our art! True custodians respect each other and "share" giving back to the dance and to each other. However, it was not the Championships and Trophies that gave Victor his biggest thrill in dancing. No, Victor partnered the great Dame Margot Fontayne on her Australian tour. " knowing and seeing me perform some Highland, Dame Margot and I attended a Highland Games competition, she looked at me and said "Victor, but they are not dancing the way you do!" Advice to young dancers? "Be true to yourself and the secret to success is work!" Preferred Dance Pumps? "ones that fit! Ballantyne were the ones I preferred.
H.G. : Canada , outside of Scotland, has more adult world champions than any other country, why do you think that is the case? " There is of course the number of Scottish immigrants that populated Canada and took their culture with them. It is also easier for them to come to Scotland and compete in greater numbers because of the money. They have also had access to Scottish teachers who have also immigrated; again access to knowledge and funding."
H.G. question "Many within Highland Dancing believe that a male dancer has some sort of advantage when it comes to lifting silverware. Did you find that to be the case during your own competitive career? "Haven't stolen a thing in my life! No, Mrs. Cameron taught me to dance with the strength of the bull but with the grace, finesse, and the agility of the deer meaning both the male and female traits of dance. This is something that I believe to be lost in the majority of the dancing today. The personality has also been lost. Every dancer has their own personality. I call what is happening today the "Dracula Effect" the life's blood is being drained out of the dancer in my opinion it is the SOBHD ( as it has evolved) that should get the credit for Scotland's first "cloning" experiment, as they 'cloned dancers' long before Dolly the sheep! When dancers from the different countries competed there were so many distinct styles, I competed again after winning the Adult World in 68,69 to prove that I could also win the championship under the SOBHD rules and restrictions within the steps. For instance it used to be that that the Fling would be 10 steps and you danced them in the order the judge gave to you . The Irish Jig, you danced 18 steps and 6 or 8 in the final. Sean Triubhas had 8 slow and 2 quick Sword 5 slow and 2 quick. You wouldn't find the SOBHD dancers able to handle that today. They are primarily focused on the 4 dances in competition. The Hornpipes and lesser known (nowadays) dances are not being danced. I was judging with the late Bobby Watson, he turned to me and said " there's a champion for you, which one says I "the one using the kilt as a parachute!"
H.G. If you were given a magic wand is there any single thing you would like to change or improve in the world of Highland Dancing? "Yes, the lack of respect and malice toward the true ambassadors of Highland Dancing. The SOBHD has a monopoly in Canada and the US, these dancers are not having the opportunity to meet with some of the true champions. For instance at Braemar, which this year will be judged by Charlie Mill, SOHDA, Jean Swanson, Edith McPherson both SOBHD and myself (Victor) and I am totally independent. The respect for dancers who were "all around champions" in all dances not just the four of today (SOBHD).
When I was on the platforms at 17,18, 19 years of age I had students of mine actually competing. Now because of the rulings (SOBHD) although I have the Academy of the Dance, Wilmington Delaware US, I am restricted through Board (SOBHD) policy unable to judge or have dancers compete in any Canadian or US competition have however, had dancers, champions winners of Board titles, including Cowal, come to me privately (under the cover of darkness). However, I cannot claim them due to those same restrictive procedures.
H.G. There is obviously a bit of controversy over the 1969 World Championship. SOBHD boycotted Cowal and held their own Championship at Gourock. Looking back on that time do you have any regrets that the 69 title wasn't a unified one. " No, the SOBHD , Championship was a "Confined Championship" it was not an "open to the world " Championship. I was the 1969 World Champion recognized by Cowal and any one organization cannot negate that fact.
My regrets come the following year when Mr. Thompson and the Cowal Board caved into the
demands of the SOBHD. Cowal, is no longer a truly "open to the world" championship. It is now
a "confined championship". I would like to see Cowal once again open to all dancers, then
ultimately the winner could say they were a truly a world premier title holder having danced
with the world and not just the dancers of one organization, judged by one organizations
You may contact Victor through The Academy of the Dance, 209, W.14th Street, Wilmington Deleware.19801 USA Tel 302.656.8968