Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

The Dancers body Part three by Loraine Ritchey

What does a parent do? Part Two of this article had the advice "How do you know if a teacher has knowledge of the body? ASK! You the parent must do your homework initially. The teachers that are serious and qualified will answer the questions, they will willingly and proudly give the knowledge in a manner that will both stimulate, encourage and enhance the growth of a child in a proper manner and in a correct environment and regardless of their affiliation (Highland) will not allow you the parent to succumb or be subject to the vacuum syndrome"

We usually rely on the "background and experience" of the teacher/ coach or professional that we hire to teach our child. We are the "employer" yet it seems that even those parents who handled other employment issues with ease have a great difficulty dealing with those who oversee the recreational/hobby aspect of our child's life.

Why is that? Highland of course has very few teachers in the USA in comparison to other dance forms. Highland teachers are found in "clusters, the clusters are then few and far between. Clustering usually came about as a teacher moved into an area started a studio and eventually his/her students took on of the "teaching certification tests" from BATD, UKA SDTA (examining bodies for the SOBHD). Ontario, Canada has a great many more clusters than the USA because of the Scottish immigrants that came to live there. This causes some diversity and also choice.

Dancers and parents in the USA really don't have the same luxury. Therefore it follows that maybe we are nervous about "upsetting" the teacher with our questions, they could be the only game in town. We don't want to get the "name" of being a pushy parent! In asking outside the studio for advice we are probably asking a teacher who is part of the original studio and again word might get back that we are "difficult". If we upset the individual it may mean "journeys" of some duration to find another teacher.

Many of us also suffer from " my child may be the one to pay the price" should I seem too pushy. Parents tend to want their child to succeed and unfortunately in the case of Highland Dance is in the USA and Canada a "competitive art form". Indeed the President of the SOBHD, Billy Forsyth calls it "dance sport". Highland dancers are expected to perform in this dance sport to a rigid standard. Dancers are being pushed, by parents, teachers, and the nature of the beast to attain a set standard earlier and earlier in age.

Gareth Mitchelson former Cowal Champion and SOBHD adjudicator/teacher has seen the problems of the young dancer pushed beyond their physical capability. " To this extent it is up to the parent to ask the teacher to hold back if they are trying to push the child too quickly and similarly for the teacher to hold back the child until they are properly able to cope. They must realize that pushing too early will only reduce the child's dancing life by causing pain and injury on young developing bones and bodies.

Again, it seems it is up to the parent. What about those "certificates" hanging on the wall of Highland teachers proclaiming the teacher has passed the teaching exam? In the case of the SOBHD their examining bodies BATD, UKA, SDTA charge the prospective teacher hundreds of dollars in fees to pass that certification with a yearly renewal every year once the applicant has passed. How much of that exam is based on the mechanics of the body? The exams given by the BATD, UKA and SDTA are based on the steps and technique of the SOBHD syllabus on the "steps and positions used". The teacher is certified only in how they teach the SOBHD technique, how a dancer's body reacts to those techniques is not covered.
The writing on the wall (certification) is not all encompassing. Yet Highland dancers have to adjust their body to the steps and technique more so than any other dance form. The dancers are judged primarily (SOBHD) on how well the dancers performs the steps. Poor upper body, head positions and the twisting and grimacing seen is a direct result of inadequate training.

Shendl Russell, Chairman of the SOBHD when asked about the criticism levied about inadequate teacher training in body mechanics stated: " As an educator myself, I firmly believe in the value of education. I see this as the primary responsibility of all examining bodies to cultivate the education of its members. Many conferences, particularly in North America, incorporate sessions on physical development and training methods and many dance teachers are also now professionally qualified in these areas" (Note) The conferences are usually one or two day workshops a few hours in duration for another fee. There are in fact very few professionally qualified individuals; personally I can count them on one hand. (LR)

For the Highland parent in North America if your teacher does not have any qualifications to teach other than those given by one of the BATD, UKA or SDTA it is the advice of this writer to make sure that your child also works with someone who is knowledgeable in the area of body mechanics or who has someone educated in that field as part of the studio. To be seen as a "difficult parent" may not be flattering but to have your child suffer pain and injury out of ignorance is worse.

Contact Loraine Ritchey 440-246-6046 E-mail lritch7@yahoo.com

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

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