Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

This month, it is a finishing up and a new beginning and the segway in between. What does that all mean in the world of Highland dancing and this column? At the time of writing the SOBHD World Championship at Cowal Gathering is over and we have this years SOBHD World Champions. Juvenile SOBHD: Gillian O'Leary, Natal SA, Junior SOBHD Tony Cargill, Arbroath, Scotland and once again the Adult SOBHD World Champion Colleeen Rintamaki, Ontario, Canada. So a finishing up for another year for the SOBHD dancers and a new beginning with the yearly announcement of the SOBHD Championship steps for 2001. For this column, a finishing of the older dancers responses and the start of another questionnaire "Mothers and Others". Just as New Zealand will be starting its summer season (as we go into winter in the Northern Hemisphere) New Zealand will also be part of this month's column. In other words a bit of a pot -pourri .

To continue with our older dancers, the responses of "why" do you want to get back into dancing or even start are as varies as the tartans they wear. To a man (or woman for that matter) every single response to "Would you encourage someone of your age to start Highland" YES!! From Tim "you can dance to whatever level you want to aspire to, you can perform, compete and hopefully get a free meal and a dram on Burns night if you turn up to dance. Most agree the exercise is wonderful and the camaraderie and they also agree. " For people who are just doing it just for fun, can't think of any negative aspects. For those who want to compete, there are obstacles. But, I think overall, it is a great art/sport and try to encourage everyone to give it a shot. I have encountered resistance, comments to the effect that it is just for little girls, it's too difficult etc. But, I think once the older dancers really come into their own, this should change. After all historically, the dances weren't done just by little girls.

So our older dancers are waiting in the wings, waiting to contribute to Highland Dancing, putting up with the naysayers, the difficulties of the mature body, having to dance with children half their age. Still they persevere. Why? Because they truly love the culture and the dance and have the maturity to know why they are dancing and because of the love of this art form they are willing to put up with the negatives. Hopefully, they will be able to "come together" and have a specialized competition at one of the "nationals".

"Coming together" Will there ever be a "non restrictive" World Championship again? The "lists have been arguing the point for months. It seems, in this writer's opinion, that those areas of the world that have only known one organization are not too bothered. As one teacher from Canada said " if it isn't broke don't fix it! Why should we change anything here? It works" or the comment from the USA " I don't know why any one would want to stir all this up, after all why should we care if New Zealand or some Scots etc. can't dance at Cowal, they can quit their organization and join ours" Ah "quit their organizations and join ours", there is the problem as throughout the world all organizations bar one have no problem with their dancers dancing in competitions other than their own or belonging to other organizations. However SOBHD dancers cannot belong to any other organization. New Zealand being a case in point. This year did find a dancer from New Zealand dancing at the SOBHD run Cowal Gathering, Rachel McDowell. Rachel won the prestigious Piping and Dancing Association of New Zealand Dominion Council Trust Travel Award (worth $3,000). Winning the award meant that she was able to make the trip to Scotland and to dance. However, (as I am given to understand) if she returns to dance at home in New Zealand and dances at the prestigious New Zealand Championship (where she won the award for the dancer who gained the most points in the New Zealand Championship)) she would no longer be able to dance at Cowal or any SOBHD competition. Unless, of course, New Zealand changes courses and goes under the SOBHD umbrella. Many in New Zealand feel that by doing so and dancing the "restrictive" steps of the SOBHD their culture and the way the dancing has evolved would lose.

On August 27th, Kincardine, Scotland a workshop on the New Zealand Hornpipe and Jig Steps, given by Fiona Halliday. "Fiona, after dancing for a number of years in NZ, has been in Scotland for approx 3 years. Fiona will be returning to NZ in October.

Sailors Hornpipe:

Fiona explained the general differences between the dances taught in NZ and Scotland. 1. Taught at a slower pace with consequently more attention to detail. I.e. getting basic right, holding older dancers (certain steps only allowed to be performed by dancers aged 18 and over) 2. Classes are usually taught on an individual basis i.e. one on one. 3. Exams separate for Highland, Irish and Sailors Hornpipe- must pass ALL for Teachers Qualifications. 4. Exam syllabus similar to ballet with barre work. Arms exercises, deportment & poise, movements. Dances and musical appreciation also have theory, which includes the history of the dances, what type and examples of suitable bagpipe tunes.

Hornpipe Music Basics:

Time signature 2/4 ( 2 beats per bar of music) 16 bars per step. Each bar count & 1&2 Suitable bagpipe tunes "My love She's But a Lassie Yet", "Mrs. Menzies' Polka", Black Bear Hornpipe, "Corn Riggs. EXECUTION : Demeanor should be calm while movements show animation. Dancer must visualize a sailor at work upon a rigged sailing ship and be able to display strength and ease of movement in the lighter duties. Beating and shuffling should be firm and distinct in the correct ground positions. Arm positions should depict the use of the rope. In certain steps, a roll of the body (not to be exaggerated) should combine with footwork representative on the sea. Dance should reveal traits of the sailor at work (arm and footwork should be recognizable as representative of execution of ship board duties. Movements of feet, arms and body should show precision.


They say that the Sailors Hornpipe dates back to the Tudor period but became popular when Captain Cook declared the dance as recreation for a sailor when he had no other duties. An actor T.P.Cook (no relation to Captain Cook) established and standardized the Hornpipe as he took naval parts in dramas, where the hero often danced a Hornpipe to celebrate his return to his village. T.P. Cook visited many Naval Bases and visiting ships where he noted down steps and movements. Often he would set them into a routine and performed them in the next drama in which he appeared which brought the dance into popularity. The Hornpipe was danced aboard ship for recreational and entertainment purposes. It was supposed to alleviate boredom and calm nerves before battle and improve the general health of sailors.


Fiona described and demonstrated, the Basic Break, The Lilted Break, The Senior Break and the Senior Final Break. There were demonstrations of the Clearing the Deck (similar to the alternate first step) Polka, Hoisting, Jack Tar, Telescope, Pumping, Farewell Circle, Cable Haul through the legs, Look Out and Sighting, Farewell Side, Shuffles Traveled, Walking the Plank, Climbing the Rigging, Rations Sweeping the Deck, Bucket Haul to the Chest, Cutlass and Lookout.

New Zealand is very proud of the way the dances have evolved over the centuries and in certain respects have "maintained their integrity". A decision to maybe lose the uniqueness that is theirs is not a decision to be taken lightly. Fiona's NZ workshop will continue with the Irish Jig next month. Please remember that the preceding was a very generalized overview.

So the "too-ing and fro-ing of the "dance of organizations" will continue for yet another while and the dancers will continue to practice, and give their all while "the powers that be" call the tune. Mothers and Fathers will continue to pay for the lessons and sit on the bleachers and hold their breath during the sword. The past month has found over 160 responses, world wide, to a questionnaire put to the parents and teachers of all organizations. The response was overwhelming and I am still gathering all the information. However, 99% of all respondents wanted a "sharing" and had no problem with their children dancing with the children and dancers of any organization. To be continued.

Questions or comments

Loraine Ritchey

1127 W. 4th Street

Lorain, Ohio, 44052

TEL 440.246.6046

e-mail ritch@adelphia.net lritch7@yahoo.com loraine@celticcafe.com

(hopefully one of those will reach me)