Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

First appeared in Dancer December 1996)

As stated previously in the Charlie Mill article “Who Would Be A Dancing Judge?” I contacted Mr. Mill, as I was surprised that a Highland adjudicator would be so open with criticism when I had been literally knocking on the SOBHD doors trying to get a response. However, as explained in the previously posted article Mr. Mill belongs to another organization; one I had no knowledge of up until that fateful day. I noticed when retyping the article for the web, the questions asked and answers given are still being asked today. Deportment or “bent back betty” still raises concerns. The posture of the majority today’s dancers will be keeping chiropractors in business for years to come!

“I am please in this months column (December 1996) to bring you answers to you questions for Charlie Mill. First though I have included a brief biography:

CHARLIE MILL:- Charlie started dancing at the age of 4. His honors and trophies are much too numerous to mention her. Needless to say he eventually opened his own dancing school, passed his examiners and adjudicators exams and has spent a lifetime studying the theoretical side of Highland Dancing. Charlie was asked by the BBC to participate in a 13-week series where Highland and Scottish dancing was to be the backbone of the show. Those 13 weeks turned into a 10-year association with the BBC. The show, The White heather Club. Charlie then continued his professional career touring with Jimmy Shand. Today, when he is not adjudicating most of Scotland’s top competitions, he teaches workshops, lectures and writes a monthly column for the “Scottish Banner”. Charlie also authored the “The ABC of Highland Dancing and Games Directory”

Many of you asked questions that were very similar in content, so I have combined them. I will also have to spread them over more than one column. It is thanks to Owen Goldman and Dancer That this has been made possible.

Question: Your article “Who would be a Dancing Judge” drew mixed response from the readership. Some judges and teachers disagreed, while some dancers and teachers lauded the article. What do you say to your critics?

Answer Charlie: I have written dozens of reviews on todays dancing scene, but the one I penned on being a Dancing Judge was the one that ruffled a few feathers but I am delighted if it made others sit up and think! I admit the contents were my own personal opinions. I have since had many letters applauding my plain speaking.

Question: Do you think there should be some sort of adjudication of judges ( e.g.) some championships (the only time where dancers SOBHD are given markings) will have a judge bringing in a dancer in 1st place and others not even placing the same dancer in any of the six places? It does seem sometimes that you are at two different competitions, or at least the judges seem to be.

Answer Charlie: Yes! It must appear strange to some dancers and their mums when one judge will place one or two dancers are regularly in the prize lists while another adjudicator won’t have them anywhere in their results! Every adjudicator will obviously have their own little idiosyncrasies that they will be looking out for but this should only take up a very small percentage of the overall performance they are considering. Adjudicators must put previous knowledge of known dancers to the back of their minds and make their decisions on the execution they see before them at that moment. Yes! It is annoying when you witness some adjudicators go for wild, exaggerated movements that often, in my opinion, throw the dancer out of time; while others prefer the straightforward basic traditional movements. Just because a dancer has recently won this award and that trophy should not in any way influence the adjudicator. Remember even the best dancers have their off days.

Question: It seems Highland judges look more toward the lower body and not take in the dancer as a whole. What do you say to the dancer who is trying for “lift”, true turnout and strong upper body, only to see poor posture and “jumping” being brought in time and time again?

Answer Charlie:- What a highland adjudicator should look for is a general overall performance, incorporating positions, timing variation and execution of steps and very importantly and often unmindfully neglected, deportment! It is amazing to contemplate that on today’s scene there are some brilliant dancers whose footwork and attitude are excellent and stay in perfect position time after time, but if the adjudicator, through possibly concentrating on these immaculate positions, could every so often raise their eyes to above the waist they might be a little disillusioned how several of those dancers let themselves down badly with disappointing arm, elbow, wrist and hand positions.

It is essential that great attention be paid to armwork to ensure that the positive movements that happen below the waist perfectly match the graceful movements above the waist. It is also astonishing to realize how many of today’s dancers are non-musical. Either you have a good command of rhythm or else you struggle matching movement counts to fit each bar of music. Studying Scottish tunes and tempos should be a major priority during each class. Can you listen to a Scottish tune and tell if it is a Reel, Jig, March, 2/4 March or 6/8 March? If not, then it is time to make enquiries!

Question: What is your opinion of putting 5-9 year olds on the “high ball” of the foot so they can win?

Answer Charlie:- You have answered that question yourself when you say dancers are being pushed from an early age. (NOTE another question in a following article). I seem to recall in my day a dancer was nurtured along by his/her teacher at a pace that suited each individual and it always appeared that the end result in most cases justified the time and patience spent over each pupil. Nowadays it appears a dancer is programmed to achieve certain degrees of proficiency and is forced to fulfill the expectations of those who expect fast results by being groomed far too soon! This of course can lead to injuries- exertions, muscle strains, shin splints etc.

Here in Scotland I must truly admit that injuries are a rare occurrence as our dancing platforms at games are of a high standard with plenty of spring and elasticity for the dancer to perform well. The only time I hear of mishaps is when dancers to concert and exhibition work and have to perform of awkward surfaces like concrete, fixed wooden floors, tiled floors or even grass!

To be continued.

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

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