Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

Highland Dancing, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - Part Two

By Loraine Ritchey

Shendl Russell, Chairman of the SOBHD, response to Celtic Worlds query as to Ian Cameron of New Zealand's help in the formation of the SOBHD was hardly one of thanks! Russell writes:
"There is no Balmoral Games. There is however the Royal Braemar Gathering. This information has come from the late Ian Cameron of New Zealand and there are many comments in his letters and notes of the time which would be disputed by others of that era. One example, his assertion that Bobby Cuthbertson and a small group at 'Balmoral' asked to meet him to try and build an organization such as existed in New Zealand. Anyone who knew Bobby Cuthbertson would question whether Bobby would ever ask for advice from someone in New Zealand, or indeed any overseas participant in the dancing world."

Ian Cameron, OBE, MBE, C StJ, was close not to just one Prime Minister but to a succession of Prime Ministers. Cameron was one of the most respected men in the piping and dancing community world wide His life journey found him on a first name basis with heads of state and moving in circles that most of us would never attain. A man who scoured the country in World War 2 looking for sets of bagpipes needed for the soldiers. The difficulty of that task in New Zealand during that period would have made a lesser man cringe. Undaunted Cameron set off and toured the country collecting bagpipes that were sitting unused, under beds etc. and in a short time he had pipes for all the pipers in the regiment. Although he wasn't a dancer himself, his wife, Fassie was a leading dancer. Cameron had an extensive library of dance publications which he researched thoroughly knowing the contents of all the books.

This writer has to ask the question "Why?" Why would a man of sterling credentials who had and still has the respect of all those that knew him "need to embellish the facts" of that day in Balmoral (Royal Braemar)? His accomplishments, many that make the "help" in founding the organization known as the SOBHD today, pale in it's insignificance. Certainly not in the grand scheme of his lifetime's work would he "need" to add this event to his resume.

Contacted for an official response to Russell's statements as Chairman of the SOBHD (Russell: "there are many comments in his letters and notes of the time which would be disputed by others of that era") Raewyn Weggery, Examination Secretary for the NZAHND states:

"We advise that Ian Cameron's letters were included in our newsletter to our members for their own information and we have every belief in what he did was held in high regard in the dance world here and overseas. We are very sad to see his integrity questioned."

Russell had also stated: in her interview with Celtic World: "How much of Ian Cameron's knowledge of dancing in Scotland? He certainly had contacts in Scotland, but mostly in the piping world."

Weggery on behalf of the NZAHND writes: " Perhaps there was confusion with Kenneth Cameron. He preceded Ian D. Cameron as President of the Piping & Dancing Association of NZ and was a leading piper in his day."

Russell whose age at the time of the events in question would have found her at the very least in nappies, if indeed born at all, is obviously going on the facts as "others" have informed her. The "he said she said" of Highland dance that has perpetuated myths as facts and facts as myths for the last 50 odd years continues it seems.

The fact remains the published report " His (I.D. Cameron) persistence in bringing before the dancing authorities in Scotland the work being done in New Zealand brought about the establishment of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing." (Piping and Dancing Assoc.1983. pg.41)" was never disputed by the SOBHD in the 20 years that it has been in print.

Russell goes on to say: " the story of Bobby Cuthbertson leaving the 'Balmoral' Secretary's tent underneath the back of the tent due to the problems that day is comical"

NZAHND for their part reiterate, "Ian D Cameron made a life time study of dance and we have many of his study papers. There is no doubt whatsoever that Ian Cameron was on friendly terms with D G MacLennan, G Douglas Taylor, Major Bourne, Captain Davidson and Bobby Cuthbertson.

Ian Cameron's story of Bobby Cuthbertson is indeed comical but being aware of Mr. Cameron's caliber we do not find it at all unusual that his advice would be sought.

In earlier times people in New Zealand always referred to Braemar as "Royal Braemar" hence Ian Cameron's use of "Balmoral" in his 1980 letter is quite understandable to New Zealanders"

The Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing in their history state "It was also hoped to try and resolve the many arguments and complaints made by Highland Games competition organisations about the biased or simply bad judging which was prevalent at the time" (1950)

Arguments, the proverbial punch up (hand bags at dawn), disagreements as to judges credentials, judging and dancing styles and the sight of at least one of a Highland Champion's mother chasing judges with her umbrella was not uncommon. All organisations and most individuals believed that there had to be some common ground and most still feel that way.

There is something "honest" in the arguments of years gone by. The mother chasing the judge at least had the opportunity to make her feelings known. In the largest of all organisations parents are not allowed a "voting voice".

The prize money, which in some cases meant a week's wages to the dancer, was important enough for a dancer to argue the fact of poor judging. Today it seems the "money" has done a flip. It is the organisations that garner the prize especially the SOBHD and its Affiliates and Examining bodies in the amount of dues, examination and registration fees amounting to hundreds of thousand of dollars in total between them. Fees for judges that enable them to travel worldwide and have travel and housing expenses covered by the competition organisers. How much of the registration fees go to support the offices and staff of the SOBHD? These fees are paid by the parent for the registration of their child to dance but no voice is heard "officially" on their behalf.

Russell writes: "Their voice is heard on many levels. Many home and overseas organizations have been operated by parent organizations and continue to do so. Their contributions to Highland Dancing must not be minimized or overlooked, especially overseas. They are primarily the reason Highland Dancing has survived overseas along with demonstration, teaching and examining tours by the past dance masters of Highland Dancing"

But no direct vote! Russell emphasizes their importance but not to the point that they have a direct say. Therefore, who outside the "club" is holding the SOBHD accountable?

The fisticuffs of the by gone era have gone from the mud of the games circuit to the mire of "organizational diatribe" such as the rule " the prevention of those registered with the Board (SOBHD) from becoming members or organizations outside its control".

No longer the clean healthy smack in the mouth but questioning of integrity or credentials. An article asking about the whereabouts of today's male dancers makes no mention of one of the most successful dancers of the day, one who garnered more World titles than the writer Billy Forsyth (Where Have all the Young Men Gone) why? Did the " judging by politics" or the recognizing of talent based on personal likes and dislikes, the whom is involved with whom die all those decades ago or is it still with us?

In recent months we have seen "children turned in" for dancing in a wrong competition. Organizations and people not involved with the "largest" classed as second class or their knowledge denigrated, as they were "friendly with others". Glee of a great number when another dancing association faces problems, the use of language that confuses the reader, minutes and decisions given to the dancing community on a "need to know" basis, , people chastised by withholding merchandise for having opinions on the internet, and horribly a child put in danger due to the silent betrayal of colleagues, the list goes on.

It seems that things really haven't changed that much, the arguments and posturing are still there beneath the surface, they are just couched in more "civilized behavior" Maybe it is time to get out the umbrellas once more!

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

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