Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

The following is an article by Bruce Campbell, publisher Celtic World Magazine celtic_world@hotmail.com there also follows a response by Bill Weaver ( who is mentioned in the article)

Article by Bruce Campbell: Celtic World July 2002

THE world of Highland dance is set to be put under intense scrutiny in the wake of a legal challenge to the jurisdiction of the Edinburgh-based Scottish Official Board of Highland Dance mounted by three-times World Champion, Victor Wesley.

Wesley's Scottish attorneys recently filed a law suit against SOBHD and its officers, claiming that their refusal to allow Wesley, now a US citizen resident in Delaware, the opportunity to have his students dance at major events in Scotland and USA is a breach of his liberties.

The controlling body in the United States, FUSTA, has also been challenged and is currently being investigated by both the Internal Revenues Service and the Immigration Department for alleged breaches of the strict American visa rules.

At the Delco Highland Games, ( note LR this situation was in the 90's and is on tape) Wesley staged a citizen's arrest on one of the Highland dance judges who was officiating on a paid basis without any Green Card status. The Scottish official was in the USA on a visitor's visa yet had been billed as appearing as a judge and also a teacher at a major dance workshop. While performers and teachers have been generally not declaring income earned around the Games and teaching circuits for many years, it is still in contravention of law in both Britain and USA. For most it has been a matter of pocket money, rarely, if ever, matching the monies spent but for a few it represents significant undeclared and therefore untaxed income.

Now a formal complaint has been lodged with American authorities who are now said to be "vigorously" investigating FUSTA and its activities. "There have been extensive immigration and labour law violations from the network by which the Scottish dance adjudicators, who are aliens and certified by the SOBHD (which has no Cultural Exchange Visa), pose as mere visitors when they enter the US," says James Martin, attorney for Wesley. "In fact, they are in the US to judge or to teach dance workshops, or both, and they are paid for their services.

"Victor Wesley is not allowed to participate in these events because of his objections to criminality within the management of the SOBHD and its related organizations." FUSTA president Bill Weaver was contacted by Celtic World and asked for comment but has declined to do so. Adding to FUSTA's problems is the fact that its members must register with SOBHD.,( note LR: for clarification membership in Fusta requires that in order to be a member of FUSTA individuals must a paid up dues paying member of an examing body recognised by the SOBHD or a SOBHD adjudicator) Wesley's attorneys are mounting a challenge to that requirement because FUSTA is claiming charitable tax status and they insist that there should be no prerequisite for its members to first register with an alien body, in this case Scotland's SOBHD.

Meanwhile Weaver, in a recent FUSTA editorial, has slammed SOBHD for its poor communication, insisting that his organisation will defy a SOBHD ruling not to circulate its minutes. Ironically, Weaver has declined the opportunity to present his case publicly. His refusal to answer repeated press questions raises doubts as to his own credibility. FUSTA officers, including Weaver, could face criminal charges should the IRS mount a successful court case.

Likewise SOBHD president Billy Forsyth has refused to answer constant press questioning. On March 18 Forsyth replied to a request from Celtic World for information saying: "(I) hope my response to your request is not time critical. "I leave in an hour for London and then I'm in USA for a week, so with apologies, I'll need to postpone an email until sometime next week. "Please be assured I will get back to you then." Now, some four and a half months later, Forsyth has still not returned calls.

He was also involved in press criticism for his part played in selection of dancers for a segment in this year's Edinburgh Tattoo, a story which was previously broke in Celtic World. Forsyth has recruited only dancers with SOBHD affiliation leading to suggestions of impropriety. In particular, his role in selecting New Zealand based dancers has been criticised.

ScotDanceNZ is a recently formed body which according to its president is not a registration agent and has no competitions. Yet New Zealand dancers wishing to appear at the Tattoo have been told they need to join ScotDanceNZ and also register with SOBHD. A series of requests for clarification to ScotDanceNZ received hostile reaction and a request to help clarify the situation has gone unanswered. SOBHD's role in supporting a new organisation in New Zealand in competition to the century plus old NZP&D has also caused a bitter reaction in that country.

Supporters of SOBHD in New Zealand claim that there are major benefits of joining what is without question the world's largest dancing organisation. It is undeniable that SOBHD has done a tremendous job, since its formation in 1952, to both preserve and promote the traditions of Highland dance.

Yet it is equally undeniable that the much older New Zealand Piper & Dancer Association has also done much to foster the heritage. Supporters of that tradition point to the fact that their dancers have access to many more steps than SOBHD which has instead operated on a restricted policy of steps, no doubt to enable judges to better adjudicate at contests. That is a similar situation with the other major organisation in Scotland, Scottish Official Highland Dancing Association, actually formed two years before SOBHD.

For some years now there has sadly been a great deal of conflict between SOBHD and SOHDA. There has been an attempt recently to find mutual ground between the two bodies but that, claim the cynics, is a smokescreen aimed at breaking down the vital New Zealand barrier.

At the recent Milngavie & Bearsden Highland Games I was told by the SOBHD convenor that "SOHDA dancers were rubbish" and that they "weren't taught properly. "That's why SOBHD is the best. "We're the only real dancing body. "The others are rubbish."

Parents of SOHDA dancers in private mail to Celtic World have also claimed that their children have been subjected to continual taunts by schoolchildren who dance under the SOBHD umbrella, taunting them that they are inferior and that their trophies and medallions are worthless. SOBHD officials when made aware of this situation expressed regret.

Currently New Zealand has more registered dancers per capita than any other dance country in the world. Critics of SOBHD point out that it would be a major feather in their cap should they manage to see an amalgamation between NZP&D and ScotDanceNZ through. "There isn't any real likelihood that ScotDanceNZ will get off the ground,"

One critic told Celtic World. But just by it being there it is acting as a stick to NZP&D to continue talks with Edinburgh. This is a controversy which has gone on for decades. SOBHD has banned New Zealand dancers who have competed in Scotland and then re-registered with NZP&D. "They have also banned dancers in Scotland for the same thing. Recently they gave an amnesty which will last to 2004 which will allow our dancers to compete in SOBHD events. "But few New Zealanders will travel to Scotland so what they are really doing is very neatly dropping their rules to let us dance with events under the banner of ScotDanceNZ. "Sadly, they have fooled a few people into thinking it would be for the betterment of New Zealand dancing without ever really giving any great reasons why."

Some years ago SOBHD proclaimed itself as 'the world governing body' of Highland dance, failing to acknowledge that there was a rival body also based in Edinburgh with a significant membership and also other overseas organisations which have refused to come under its umbrella. SOBHD has also become one of the member groups of sportscotland, a government advisory body, and despite the fact that it does not directly receive funding itself, affiliated groups and contests receive considerable government and local authority funding.

SOBHD president Billy Forsyth was also at one time 'president' of Scotdance, a business registered in the United Kingdom which received considerable funding from local authority. Mr Forsyth may still act in that capacity although it has been difficult to establish a clear picture because of his reluctance to be interviewed.

Current SOBHD secretary Marjory Rowan was listed as secretary while Scotdance, which also called itself the 'Scottish Cultural Organisation for Traditional, Dance, Music and Song', gave its address as 32 Grange Loan, Edinburgh-the same address as the office of SOBHD.

Scotdance's letterhead gives the impression of an elected cultural association, with no indication that it is in fact a registered company. Questions regarding Scotdance and its activities were listed for Billy Forsyth although remain unanswered while he maintains his position of non-communication.

Mr Forsyth was involved in a similar controversy to the Edinburgh Tattoo situation some years ago when he operated a similar exclusionist policy against New Zealand dancers wanting to dance at the Commonwealth Games. "Billy Forsyth confirmed that the bottom line was if I didn't register with the SOB (HD) I could not dance," said a New Zealand dancer who refused to accept the ultimatum.

Faced with a continual stream of reader enquiries and an almost total refusal by SOBHD officials to answer questions, Celtic World contacted MSP for Sport, Tourism and Culture, Mike Watson, for clarification. Watson's press officer Laura Hamilton answered in the minister's absence: "The Scottish Executive provides annual grant-in-aid to sportscotland to help promote and develop sport and recreation in Scotland. Once an organisation has achieved recognition as a governing body, they become eligible to apply for funding under the various programmes and initiatives operated by sportscotland. The policy of recognising only one governing body is central to sportscotland's recognition of governing bodies criteria."
Celtic World is far from satisfied with the type of response received. It has asked for a full meeting with Mr Watson and also has initiated plans to have the question put in front of the Scottish Parliament through the Scottish National Party. Meanwhile the issue continues despite SOB shilly-shallying and quangoistic rhetoric and non-action.

NOTE: Mr. Bill Weaver mentioned in the above article (JULY Celtic World) was contacted by myself for comments on the aforementioned article as it appeared in the publication. Mr. Weaver was unaware of the article until broached by this writer, I have added his comments in response to certain portions of the editorial. Mr. Weaver's response is as an individual and his comments do not necessarily reflect those of FUSTA , the organization for which he is currently the President.

Mr. Campbell's article states "The controlling body in the United States, FUSTA, has also been challenged and is currently being investigated by both the Internal Revenues Service and the Immigration Department for alleged breaches of the strict American visa rules." As the current President of FUSTA and as a member of FUSTA, if that is true, I certainly don't know about it. To my knowledge, FUSTA has not been contacted by anyone associated with either of the two organizations mentioned.

( NOTE LR: Status of any investigation by the IRS is prohibited by section 6103(b)(2)(A) of the Internal Revenue Code.)

Mr. Campbell's article also stated " FUSTA president Bill Weaver was contacted by Celtic World and asked for comment but has declined to do so." That most assuredly is not the case. I have never been contacted by Celtic World and asked to make specific comments on any subject. I have been given the opportunity to make a general comment from an E-groups dance list( of which I am also a member (in a personal capacity not as President of FUSTA) , but I have never been formally approached by Celtic World or it's editorial staff in a professional capacity as President of FUSTA or as an individual member.

This isn't the first time that Mr. Campbell has stated in an article that I have chosen not to comment. I know of at least one other article stating that I had been "invited to represent my association" regarding an article on Victor Wesley. Not only had I not been invited to represent my association, I didn't even know the article existed. One day a FUSTA member who had read the article contacted me asking about the article. Fortunately, this person told me where to access it on a web site. You can imagine my surprise to find that I had been invited to comment. I would have thought that I might have been sent the article to read before making a comment. I don't even subscribe to Celtic World, how would I know what articles are in the publication?

In regards to my "slamming" the "SOBHD for its poor communication, insisting that his organisation will defy a SOBHD ruling not to circulate its minutes." Part of that statement is true. I did slam the SOBHD for not allowing FUSTA to distribute minutes. However, I never insisted that FUSTA would defy a SOBHD ruling to not circulate minutes. What I did say was "In my opinion, FUSTA should continue to distribute the minutes anyway, at least until we are given a credible reason not to. After all you are all members of FUSTA, which is a member of the SOBHD, therefore all FUSTA members have every right to know what our parent organization is doing." In my mind, that is a far cry from defying a SOBHD ruling. Besides, I couldn't do something like that without the consent of the members of FUSTA. This isn't a dictatorship, after all.

I try to refrain from commenting on issues of which I don't have full knowledge. Though I am aware of the issues mentioned in the rest of the editorial, I don't feel well versed enough in them to pass judgment or comment. I will say, however, that based on my small portion of the editorial I am skeptical regarding the accuracy of the rest of Mr. Campbell's facts. Bill Weaver

Note LR other individuals contacted for their response did not reply

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

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