Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

Highland Enters the 21st Century by Loraine Ritchey

NOTE(Loraine) Since this article was written www.sobhd.com HAS NOW BECOME http://www.toeandheel.com due to the confusion with the SOBHD organization and in lieu of making life easier it seems.

Praise it, curse it, addicted to it or turned off by the age of the computer and the World Wide Web the plain simple truth is that as never before these tools have opened up the lines of communication. Highland Dancing has taken advantage of the electronic age. The chat rooms on various sites the, organizations sites, vendors sites, personal sites a Google or Yahoo or Ask Jeeves will direct you to any number of Highland Dancing resources throughout the world.

One of the most successful sites is www.sobhd.com not to be confused with the organisational site of Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing. In fact sobhd.com is a website dedicated to the “sobhd technique” The site is hosted by Deryck and Gareth Mitchelson.

The Mitchelson family has numerous world titles and championship titles in their history and continues to give to the dancing world their talents on and off the platform. Deryck Mitchelson, the spokesperson for the website www.sobhd.com has won 6 World Championships, is a Fellow Member and Examiner of the UKA is an Adjudicator of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing and a Bachelor of Science in Computer and Internet Technologies. Deryck, responds to Highland Dancing:

DM: “We felt that there was a need for a website that provided dancers with up to the minute news/ results/ articles etc – specifically looking at worldwide issues. Gareth initially came up with the concept for the website in 2001 and created a draft proposal which was submitted to the Official Board – at that stage we were keen that the website would belong to the Official Board. Unfortunately the offer of the website was declined. Despite this setback it was agreed that we should proceed with the concept ourselves.

SOBHD technique is discussed in public forums on our moderated bulletin boards. This has become one of the most successful features of the website. We welcome a broad range of questions covering technique, teaching, judging, organizing and dancing injuries, which are promptly answered by our suitably qualified members. Discussion such as this in an open forum is invaluable.”

HD: Do you host other websites and what are they?

DM: Deryck’s Scottish bands web site – www.thecuttingedge.com Deryck’s SOBHD manifesto for change – www.themitchelsons.com Gareth’s Celtic Spirit Dance Group – www.celticspiritdance.com

HD: Is the sobhd.com money making endeavor for you personally?

DM: The whole concept of the website was to provide a service to dancers, teachers, parents and enthusiasts. SOBHD.com is a non-profit making website. The running costs of the website is funded by a small number of sponsors, to whom we are deeply appreciative. All development and administrative effort are given free of charge – in fact the website has definitely left it’s administrators out of pocket. We are always looking for new sponsors!

HD: Since sobhd.com is so successful and also interactive with readers requesting information .how difficult is it to keep on top of the administrative duties?

DM: -The running of the website is a very time consuming task. A website is only as good as it’s content. We endeavor to ensure that all results, news, articles are current and up to date. At the recent World Championships we managed to get the Cowal qualifiers and results published within one hour of the event.

The website was developed on top of a bespoke content management system making it extremely easy to update. Content is managed through a series of “web interfaces” which means that an administrator is not required to have any knowledge of the web or programming languages to perform updates. Sourcing news and results often proves as time consuming as updating the website.

HD: What would you personally like to see come from your website

DM: I would like to publish more information on the administration and running of Highland Dancing and how it affects us all. I would also like to see more information being made available regarding the future direction the Official Board intends to take Highland Dancing. Unfortunately, SOBHD.com recently came in for criticism, from an Official Board Office Bearer, for publishing a news story that Championship certificates would be issued to the top six dancers in each World Championship age group. The Official Board should be using websites such as SOBHD.com to help publicize its good work, not fight against them.

HD: What would you say was the most gratifying aspect of hosting your site?

DM: We recently received an email from an Official Board judge who stated that “everyone who is anyone in highland dancing uses the SOBHD.com website”. Simply knowing that the website is making such a difference and that the hard work is appreciated is gratifying enough.

HD: What is the downside?

DM: Unfortunately, there are individuals, in the dancing world, who appear to take pleasure in spreading untruths about Gareth and myself and the website – often to our personal detriment. We believe that the world of Highland Dancing needs to be more open, with less sniping and political in-fighting – that’s what’s being holding highland dancing back. It’s time to grow up!

HD: What would you like to see happening in the future?

DM:-We have major plans to rebrand the website and to provide additional services such as:Online entries for all competition organisers, Judges and teachers directories Forum and study help for judges test candidates, Interviews with dancing “greats” with option for dancers to set some of the questions

HD: Can you foresee with the advent of greater technology a dancer in Australia for instance able to visually perform a step they are having trouble with and getting a critique from a teacher in USA or something along the lines of ask the judge or teacher page that is already on your site?

DM:-To an extent this is happening at the moment anyway through email. I know of several dancers who regularly send video footage to a teacher via email for a critique. With a greater uptake in broadband, rather than dial-up Internet access, video teaching could certainly become a possibility, although a computer or television screen is no substitute for a teacher in person.

HD: What other websites would you recommend the Highland dancer take a look at?

DM: -There are various chat rooms around such as dance.net, which provide areas for dancers to exchange views etc. These forums though are not moderated and the discussions often go off on wild tangents, but they can still provide useful information.

Web address for The SOBHD organisation www.highlanddancing.org SOHDA www.sohda.org.uk New Zealand www.nzahnd.org and www.piping-dancing.org.nz and of course Highland Dancing’s home website www.highlandmediagroup.org You may also find links to other websites and previous articles on my own website http://lritch7.tripod.com

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

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