Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

Competitive Parents Part Three

Heather N wrote " Your article on competitive parents nudged me into an accounting of how much of the family budget went to giving our two dancers the opportunity to compete in Highland Dance.I added everything, costuming, entry fees, travel, fuel and food expenses for those away competitions for our family of four; I won't be showing the result to my husband.

I was confused however as to why you and your dancer drove so many miles to a teacher.In the US and Canada, "all" highland dancing is governed by the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing, if your dancer wishes to compete they have to go to a teacher who is "qualified" under the examination process of the SOBHD's examining bodies.My question is since "all " highland dance teachers in the USA and Canada have been examined professionally why would you "need" to travel such a far distance?"

The Scottish Official Board "recognizes" three examining bodies as of writing, The British Association of Teachers of Dance (Scotland), The Scottish Dance Teachers Association (Scotland) and the United Kingdom Alliance (England).The Highland branches of these organizations test candidates for a fee in various categories, Associate teacher, Member, Fellow.These "professional" designations are basically a test on how well the teachers knows the "steps and dances recognized by the SOBHD" not on dance, body or knowledge of anything other than those very few dances and steps.

The examination does not cover "all dances and steps" in Highland dancing just those competed under SOBHD requirements.The examinations and training for those examinations do NOT cover body mechanics, injury avoidance, training, etc.Highland dancing is an extremely rigorous interest, the injury rate among dancers is extremely high due in part to the way the Highland dance asks the dancer to change the body to the "required positions judged in competitions". Dancers of Highland are being asked to "push the envelope" at younger and younger ages, they are performing tasks in dance their bodies are not ready to attain by teachers (in the main) not qualified to understand what is being asked of the dancer's body.

One physiotherapist on the www.sobhd.com discussion list recently wrote " I am often appalled at the stretches I see teachers doing at competitions with their pupils, stretches that have obviously been handed down from the dark ages from teacher to teacher.There are too many people teaching bad technique because they don't know any better.It is by luck that more dancers are not injured.You just have to watch at any competition to the (supporting leg) knees in the wrong place or legs being thrown wildly to the sides in an effort to do the biggest leap possible. A large number of teachers don't know how to fix the technical faults.I have just sat an exam and was asked what faults I might come across in certain movements but I was not asked how I might fix them! If you only have to memorize a book to become a teacher then I believe we are being caught in the dark ages."

Highland dance parents looking at the certificates on the wall of the studio usually assume that the teacher has reached a "professional level of qualification" in Highland and in dance.Most assume the teacher has been trained or received instruction about basic biomechanics when dealing with a dancer.If your teacher has not received other dance training/ mechanics of the body the certifications from BATD, SDTA and UKA does not cover that area of expertise.In fact any college, university or professional performance or dance union does not recognize those same "professional" qualifications in Highland.The qualifications are only recognized by the SOBHD and it's affiliate members.

I was such a parent who thought, "all Highland teachers were created equal" as there is standardized testing procedure in the USA.I thought I was assured of quality teaching. Unfortunately, this is not the case my dancer suffered injury and pain.Luckily ,a knowlegeable teacher and adjudicator of Highland came to our studio for a "workshop" she informed me of the problem my daughter was facing and how her body as it grew would be facing serious consequences. Eventually I found a teacher of Highland who is also career professional in the mechanics of the body, and sports training etc.Thus the reason I drove all those miles, I wanted someone who was "qualified" in the body and how it related to the dances of Highland. During the week my daughter attended a reputable ballet studio, her instructor taught her as he would a "male" dancer.Highland dances were until a few decades ago exclusively male so it made sense that the ballet classes and exercises developed for the male dancer would be a good fit, that coupled with the shortened Achilles (highland dancers very rarely land with the heel on the floor) as opposed to dance technique where the foot is flat on the floor in opposition to the shortened Achilles.

As parents we look into school systems when buying our homes, we save for years for colleges, feed our children healthy diets and research, we have to be even more aggressive when looking at qualifications of those that are taking young bodies and molding them to fit an art form.The damage done now which shows up in adult life from poor training will come back to haunt you and your child."Buyer Beware" is a good rule of thumb, you are the consumer in the Highland dance world make sure you know what service you are buying.

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

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