Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey


Mention “The Gathering” and the one that leaps to the fore is “Braemar”. The website for the Games, www.braemargathering.org states “While there have been Gatherings of one sort or another at Braemar since the days of King Malcolm Canmore, nine hundred years ago, the Gathering as we know it has been organised by the Braemar Royal Highland Society for only 187 years. But during much of that time large crowds have come each year to acclaim their Monarch as Chieftain of the Braemar Gathering”.

Indeed the Braemar Gathering finds itself with the Royal Family as their patrons. The death of Princess Diana found Braemar cancelled out of a deep respect the year she was so tragically lost to the world. This was one of the very few occasions that caused a cancellation of Braemar, who apart from the war years have soldiered on through the bad and the good times to bring to the public once again on September 4th, 2004 truly “Highland” Games. “The Gathering is world famous for its friendship and hospitality which we look forward to sharing with many visitors to our Park beneath the encircling heather clad hills.”(Braemar website).

The Highland Dancing also has an illustrious sponsor that of the Hilton Hotel chains, in fact the “Hilton Craigendaroch” (a 4 star hotel located on Braemar Road) is the dancing sponsor for 2004. This year will find another first for “the Gathering” The panel of adjudicators for the “open dancing” will be totally made up those judges belonging to the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing (SOBHD).

The SOBHD founded in the early fifties is a “private” organization (as per the Inland Revenue) and in the early 80’s proclaimed itself via its letterhead as the “World Governing Body of Highland Dancing”. This statement does not go unchallenged by the others in the world of Highland Dancing who do not recognize the self proclaimed status such as the Scottish Official Highland Dancing Association (Scotland) and the New Zealand Academy of Highland and National Dancing (NZ), Victoria Scottish Union (Australia) Highland and National Dancers of Australia and the Stockholm Caledonian Dance Circle (Sweden) etc.

The problem lies not in politics between the various organizations as it seen to be by such entities as the Scottish Traditions of Dance Trust and the Celtic Connections, who have recently been caught in the “dancing dilemma, but of two of the SOBHD’s rules.

" The prevention of those registered with the Board (SOBHD) from becoming members or organizations outside its control". Effectively negating any dancer from belonging to other organizations in conjunction with SOBHD thereby restricting freedom of participation.

Also " the ineligibility of a competitor or judge, who has taken part in any "so called" championship not recognized by the Board, to compete or adjudicate in any championship or COMPETITION under Board rules until "given permission" to do so by the Board".

The Gathering at Braemar is one such instance. A proposal put before the SOBHD a few years ago to negate its judges from sitting with the independent and SOHDA judges at Braemar was voted down due in part to the “the Gatherings” illustrious patrons. (SOBHD minutes)

Braemar has through the years continued to have a judges panel made up of a mix of adjudicators and until four season ago had a healthy mix Jean Swanson, E. McPherson (both SOBHD) Charlie Mill (SOHDA) and the great Bobby Watson, who passed away in 1998. Bobby Watson was an “Independent Judge” In fact it was the late King George VI, who requested Bobby to instruct the local children in Braemar and Ballater areas to maintain the tradition.
After Bobby’s death the honour of adjudicating Braemar went to another “independent Judge” Victor Wesley. Wesley fought strenuously for many years against the restrictive rules of the SOBHD his arguments are well documented. However, earlier this year the fiercely “independent “ Wesley suddenly did an about face in the course of three months and joined the ranks of the SOBHD adjudicating panel. That fact couple with Braemar’s decision 4 seasons ago to add another SOBHD adjudicator to the panel (Betty Turkington) and the death of Charlie Mill earlier this year has indeed given the SOBHD a full SOBHD adjudicating panel at Braemar.

Contacting Mr. William A Meston M.V.O in regard to the situation that has presented itself to the dancing population that will attend Braemar this year, Meston stated “Braemar will look at a replacement judge after the Gathering. The Committee do not consider the membership organisation of the judges and we will continue to operate open dancing.”

Comments from other organizations contacted included the following statement “Braemar like other Games that include Highland Dancing may not wish to consider “ the membership organization of the judges” but when the restrictive practices of a “private organization” effects the dancers who appear before them; Braemar, like other Games, have to start looking at the adjudicators membership and the rules of those organizations and how it effects those dancers and in turn the adjudicators. To continue to operate truly “open dancing” Braemar will have to do more than proclaim that fact.”
Contacting the SOHDA for comments Alex McGuire stated, “ we will be bringing the situation up at our (SOHDA) next meeting. We realize that the situation this year with the sudden death of Charlie Mill and Wesley no longer being an Independent adjudicator has left a total SOBHD panel at Braemar. We hope that the Braemar will rectify the situation for next year.”
Dancers outwith the SOBHD are also facing a problem with a total SOBHD panel. SOBHD adjudicators are not “trained in the steps of other dancing organizations” whilst Wesley has experience in SOHDA steps and interpretation the other adjudicators SOBHD knowledge of dance steps is questioned by dancers outwith the SOBHD.

The consensus of those dancers contacted was the frustration with the situation wondering if their steps (e.g. There are 40 steps in a SOHDA Fling as opposed to the 16 of the SOBHD) if the adjudicators who are trained only in SOBHD technique will see the step performed as being incorrect due to lack of knowledge. SOBHD adjudicators judge 80% technique, 10% interpretation and 10% costuming. “How do we know whether the SOBHD adjudicators are seeing our interpretation correctly or if we are being penalized by having a top heavy SOBHD panel only cognizant with their own dance theory?”

“Having a panel made up of two SOBHD, One SOHDA and one independent at least gave some semblance of fairness, ideally I would like one SOBHD, one SOHDA and two independent adjudicators at Braemar, but that I think is wishful thinking said one participant who wished to remain anonymous due to the fact they were dancing this year. “ I don’t want a negative spotlight, thanks all the same”

The SOHDA has a listing of not only the available SOHDA adjudicators, such as multi Braemar winner Roo Killick but also a listing of “Independent” adjudicators, the great Rosemary McGuire the last of the truly “Open “ Cowal World Champions. SOHDA can be contacted through their website www.sohda.org.uk

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

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