Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

The leaves are still barely clinging to the trees, just finished with Halloween, haven't even begun to think about Christmas and here I am wishing you all a Happy New Year! New Beginnings and this month a new writer has emerged. Her name is Elizabeth Watson, this talented young lady of 12 years old, is a 7th grade student at the Miller-South School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Akron, Ohio. Elizabeth's concentration area at the school is "dance". According to Elizabeth's mum, Jan, her busy little girl takes " two periods of dance every day at school (mainly ballet) and also takes ballet twice a week after school at the Christine Jones Meneer School of Dance, Munroe Falls." Elizabeth is also a Highland Dancer. Three times a week will find Elizabeth in the studio of Barb McConnell, Boardman, Ohio. For five years Elizabeth and Barb have been working together to make Elizabeth into a dancer of Highland. Elizabeth is also dancing with the Moscow Ballet this December in their Ohio performance of the "Nutcracker.

So where does the writer come into the equation? Elizabeth had a school project. The project was:

"Choose someone in your interest area before 1950 who made a significant contribution to their art form and write their epitaph" Elizabeth chose Jenny Douglas. Like all good writers she peaked the interest of her readers and the "student's whose epitaph peaked the most curiosity were to "perform" their person in front of the whole school and yes! Elizabeth the writer won. Being a dancer Elizabeth drew from her other talents and performed Jenny Douglas' story in full male costume incorporating a Highland reel and a Scottish dialect.

Epitaph by Elizabeth Watson

Jenny was a young girl of ten
Who danced among the men
She beat them with an easy stroke
When found she was girl
The judges did choke

Now dancing is free for one and all
No longer blocked by that sexist wall
Men, women, all joined, together come
To the Highland games for dancing and fun

Thank you Jenny for setting us free
So we all can dance together

Project by Elizabeth Watson

(Elizabeth dances across the stage and stops centre, music stops in Scottish brogue Elizabeth begins)

I suppose yer wonderin who I am,
Up here dressed like a man.
A man you say in that wee little skirt.
That funny hat and ruffled shirt.

Aye, I'm in disguise and you mustn't give me away
Fer I'm dancing against the lads in a place where lasses can't play
Fer Highland Dances are only for the men
We lasses can't compete, let alone, win

But, I'll fix em I will, one and all
By dancing and winning and tearing down their wall
Fer I am Jenny Douglas and can dance as good as any lad
These rules, these regulations, Ohhh they make me mad

So I will dance against the men and beat them with easy stroke
But if the judges find out who I am they surely will choke.
So I will show them all what I can do
They wont know what hit them when I am through

And showed them I did, that we girls can also dance
That all we needed was a single chance
Now dancing is free for one and for all
No longer blocked by the sexist wall.

As you can see Elizabeth has talent to spare her mum tells me "Busy Little Girl! This child loves to dance and spends every waking moment moving those little (and yes, I mean little) feet. She never stops!" Hopefully for the rest of us she never does I look forward with a great deal of pleasure watching Elizabeth blossom. (Note: Barb McConnell for those familiar with Highland history is not only a great teacher but also the mum of another one of Highland Champions Rebecca McConnell, who always gave this writer great pleasure when watching her perform)

Elizabeth's teacher announced last week (January) that the project came in 1st Nationally and is going to be on display for 1 year at the Holocost Exhibit in Washington DC. Her teacher is taking her and the two other girls to DC to accept their awards and to see their exhibit.

Thanks to Jenny and other dancers the culture and history of the dances of Scotland spread across the seas and to other continents. In November's "Dancer" Fiona Halliday, New Zealand explained the NZ version of the Sailors Hornpipe and this month I would like to present her lecture on the Irish Jig (New Zealand style):


 Fiona explained, that it was almost as if there were two different (Single Time) Irish Jigs in NZ - i.e. Boy's and Girl's. The boy's Jig is very similar to what is danced in Scotland - using the same steps with lots of arm movements and use of the Shillelagh.

Conversely, the girl's Jig uses very little arm action, just a gentle swaying from side to side. The working foot is never to be raised higher than calf height.

 Steps are unusually not set. Movements are learned and combined into steps of two or four parts.  Steps may travel forward, diagonally, sideways or in a circle or be stationary and they must finish at the starting point, (with the exception of two traditional steps - "Donnybrook" and "The Slip").

 The Jig must begin with a circle and thereafter steps be arranged to give a good variety of movement and direction in order to present an interesting pattern of dance. Breaks are not set and are generally in-keeping with the movements used in the steps. Some travel steps do not require a break.


Music Basics 

 Time signature is 6/8,

Counted 1 2 3 4 5 6 (if counting 6 beats per bar of music) or, 1 &a 2 &a (if counting 2 beats per bar of music).

A complete step takes 16 bars of music.

 Examples of suitable pipe tunes to dance to:-

Banjo Breakdown, Irish Washerwoman, Paddy's Leather Breeches, Paddy O'Rafferty

 In general, the music used in New Zealand is slightly slower than in Scotland as some of the NZ movements are difficult to execute to quicker music.


There should be no over-accented beating.

All movements should be from the hips downward.

Beating & tripling should be centered on the ball of the foot and be performed with clarity and rhythmical accent.


The style of the Irish Jig should be relaxed and dignified.

The movements should be rhythmical and lilting, danced with ease & grace.

Steps using the Shillelagh would have a more marked interpretation due to the nature of the steps and correspondingly, have more marked arm actions.

Timing throughout is of paramount importance, - beating should be clear & even.

 Brief History of the Dance 

Little history exists of Irish dancing, possibly because of ban of all things Irish during and after the Tudor wars. It is said that the Irish Jig, as we know it is reflective if the joyous, spontaneous and vigorous style of village ceilidhs thus accounting for freer arm movements than in Traditional Irish Step Dancing.

 Movements Used

Batter, Backstep (Retires), Ball Change, Rear Ball Change, Ball Change Release, Ball Pivot, Brush, Cabriole, Coupe (Balance), Cover the Buckle & Twist, Cover the Buckle & Double Twist, Double Cover the Buckle & Twist, Flourish, Grind, Heel Clicking, Double Heel Clicking, Heel Drop, Forward Heel Drop, Side Heel Drop, Heel Knock, Aerial Knock, Heel Spring, Heel Twist, Heel Walk, Kicks, Overstep, Pas de Basque, Release, Rises, Shar, Side Running, Side Running Weaving, Sink, Slip, Spring Change, Stamp, Toe Tip, Triple, Double Triple and Triple Release,"

As you can see the dances of Scotland have a great deal of history and intricacy behind them. I would like to thank all the mothers and others who have responded to the "questionnaire" and I promise to get to work on bringing forth all your information, concerns and experiences with Highland. One New Years resolution I promise to keep.

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

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