Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey


Cowal on the Friday complete with Scottish Mists


by Melinda Gillen

Published in Celtic World, September 2002

(Re-printing in any other form without the express permission of Duntroon Publishing is forbidden)

IT is four-in-a-row for Canadian Colleen Rintamaki as she took the Adult World Highland Dance Championship at this year's Cowal Gathering on Saturday August 31. Colleen's career has been one of superb consistency, with a trophy cupboard packed with plaudits and now a win that sets a new standard of achievement in the record books, her success story keeps on rolling. After picking up her trophies the twenty-one-year-old champion talked to Celtic World about her latest win and career.

"I don't know how much longer I'll be dancing so each world really really means a lot to me," she revealed. "As I am thinking I'm nearing the end of my dancing career, it just means more each time too, because it is getting harder on me. "My body just doesn't work the same way it did when I was fifteen,"

However, despite the first inklings of retirement Colleen says she will return for a fifth campaign next year. "As long as I can dance next year I will be back," she says. "I am going to dance for as long as I can. "My teacher, Joy Tolev and I have talked about it and when she thinks things are starting to go downhill for me that will be time. "I'd like to end on a high, but also dance for as long as I possibly can. "This is my first love so I'm not ready to give up yet; I'd miss it way too much."

However her fourth victory at Cowal in four years was no easy task. It meant seeing off stiff competition and fine tuning her own performance to catch the judges' eye. "The competition at Cowal is just unbelievable," Colleen Rintamaki says. "I look at the other dancers and I don't know what I look like dancing, but I know how I feel and I think wow I am dancing up there with these other people. "It is such an honour to be on the stage with them. "I am very pleased with my performance.

"On Friday (in the qualifying heats) I had a little bit of a shaky day and there were things I wanted to improve on. "I have always been strong and never have a stamina problem, but there are always little technical things. "I can feel them slipping when I'm dancing sometimes, but today I did a much better job with my dancing than yesterday."

This latest triumph is just one of many in her glittering career, but Cowal also provides one of her best memories. "When the World Champions do the final Fling it is the most unbelievable feeling to know you have just won the Worlds. "You are dancing with the other two World Champions and the crowd is behind you. "It is wonderful and I don't think anything beats it."

Colleen credits her consistency to her own determination and her teacher, Joy Tolev, who has been teaching her since she first started dancing aged four. "Joy has always been very good technical teacher," the champion said. "Year round we are always working on technique. "Even as we are learning brand new steps it is always about the technique along with it and this helps me in the long run. "We are more of a team than anything. "I really understand what she is telling me to do and she knows if she tells me something I'll go home and work on it and hopefully it is fixed the next time I dance for her. "We both have the same workout thinking."

Her commitment to dancing takes up a lot of her time and must fit in with her University work as she is studying Philosophy, Linguistics and English at the University of Toronto. "Hopefully I am going to be a school teacher," she adds. "I have my own dance studio and enjoyed teaching so I knew working with children was something I could do day in and day out. "It works out pretty well because I get to work out my own school schedule so generally I'll pack all my courses into the morning, teach in the afternoon and dance myself at night. "I see Joy from about now until January around once a week or so, it's a bit of a slower season then, but starting towards the championships I'll see her twice a week. "I finish school in May anyway so I can see Joy during the day then."

As for a social life Colleen prefers to put dancing first. "My friends all know what I do so they kind of accept it," she says. "I'd put my dancing before a social life any day because this won't last as long as my social life. "I wouldn't let any of that jeopardise this for me. "A lot of my friends don't really understand what I do because Highland Dancing is not in the spotlight of the dance area. "Instead they know about ballet and jazz, but they all think it is pretty cool especially as it is not something that everyone does, so I get a lot of respect from them."

Inspiration to be the best also comes from her admiration of other dancers. "I've always looked up to the boys, who danced here - the Mitchelson boys and Gregor Bowman," she added. "I think I get more nervous dancing in front of Gregor than some of the other judges, just because I saw him dance and know what his dancing looked like. "I also really looked up to Ann Milne and Jacqueline Smith as well. "Carleigh Leighton from Ontario was a beautiful dancer and I always wanted to perform like her."

Seeing other techniques within the Highland Dance scene also interests her, earlier this year she travelled to New Zealand and saw how dancers perform there. "It was really interesting to see the older style of Highland Dancing," said Colleen. "I had never actually seen it before, their jigs are fabulous. "The dances are so long and so strenuous. "I don't know if we would be able to do it the same way they do, because they are more used to acting the dances out. "It is a very different way of doing Highland Dancing, but I loved it. "They tried to teach me some, but I was focussing totally on the feet and it is more acting that comes into theirs, but it was neat. "It would be fun to learn, it is another aspect of Highland dance and would be good for choreographies, but my focus is the Highland for Cowal."

Choreography sections within competitions are an area Colleen is familiar with through the Highland Dance scene in Canada and it is another aspect of dancing which she enjoys. "We have a few choreography competitions and generally we choreograph our own solos or group choreographies" she said. "I have done well in these, but it is hard as it depends on what the judges are judging as well. "Something we have been doing is incorporating a lot of ballet into our dances, whereas some judges are looking for really traditional Highland choreography, so it really depends. "But it is a lot of fun to do and things like show dancing are a more relaxed aspect of the Highland Dancing."

With developments like choreography being introduced at some competitions and the depth of dancing talent at Cowal the future looks bright for Highland Dance, but Colleen could not predict who will be the future champions amongst the younger competitors. However her advice to anyone who wishes to emulate her achievements is to be yourself.

"It was disappointing that Gillian O'Leary and Kimberlee Couper had to drop out of the Junior Worlds because they are both beautiful dancers and the more really good dancers you can get in there the better, with more excitement in the competition," she said.

"Every year there are new ones coming through and some of the young dancers here are unbelievable. "David Wilton is so tiny, but the power he's got in him, you would think he has springs in those shoes. "It is really hard to say who will become a champion because they are all great. "I would say work hard, listen to your teacher they are the ones that know the stuff and really think about your own things. "When I was younger I would come over here and other places in the world and people would say maybe you should do this or do that, change your style a bit, the judges like it better. "But when it comes down to it you have to do your own thing, what you are comfortable with and what you've been working on all year.

"I've never pushed the power more than what I have because other things would start to go. "I could push it and be a super strong dancer, but that's just not me, it wouldn't work with my way of dancing. "So I try to stick to my thing which has been about the all-over package. "The kids just have to follow their dreams, to have their goals starting with small ones and working their way up because winning the Worlds doesn't happen overnight. "You have to believe in yourself as well - the problem with Highland Dancing is that there is only one winner in a competition, but we can't let that discourage us. "That is what the judges thought on the day, but you may have danced the best you have ever danced in your life and that is a great thing to achieve."

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

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