Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

Highland Highlights by Loraine Ritchey

MOM, The Common Denominator Part 3.

How important is the performance aspect of dance to the up and coming dancer? Highland of course is 90% a competitive venue in this day and age.The focus is performing for the judges, especially in the world of the N. American SOBHD dancer and dancing from the textbook. Whilst other competitive Highland dancing organizations are more in tune with dance being an “art” as opposed to the SOBHD platform of Highland Dancing as a “sport” a dancer still has to have some performance skills.

There aren’t many performance opportunities for the Highland dancer.Yes, there are the pipe band dances, some one off opportunities such as Tattoos, exhibitions and shows that is put on by groups such as Scottish Dance Company and Laura Caruthers. Highland dancers have choreography competitions, but those are now “standardized” in the main as well.There isn’t the opportunity to “break out” from the competitive mode.

Janet Strukely
My subject Janet Strukely, who has now started her professional career with the Saint Louis Ballet found her self in the 7th grade under the tutelage Denise Gula and the Ohio Dance Theatre. The ODT website http://www.ohiodancetheatre.org states the following: “ Ohio Dance Theatre is a ballet based contemporary dance company that presents works with a strong theatrical element. Since its inception, the company has stretched the limits of dance by including actors, musicians and singers in many of its productions.The critically acclaimed ODT repertoire features a wide range of style from powerful, thought provoking pieces to lighter works, which combine athleticism and lyricism” The performances for the 2004-5 season includes ‘A Midsummer Night’ Dream, ‘The Nutcracker’, ‘Journey’, ‘Fire Bird’, ‘Dance Live’ and their “Children’s Series. ODT offers a “new ballet series designed especially for the very young child (3 year olds and up) and their families!These Ballets are designed with the attention span of the youngest child in mind, but sophisticated for the most discerning adult.The children’s performances scheduled were ‘Cinderella’ “This 55 minute version is based on Ohio Dance Theatre magical full length ballet.Designed especially for the very young children.The story is elaborately told with wicked step sisters, the beautiful fairy godmother, magic slippers, and a most charming prince -- all performed with colorful costumes and a little bit of magic and ‘Alice In Wonderland’-also with a cast of characters known to both children and adults alike!

Janet’s mum, Jeannette told me how important she felt having the performing aspect of her daughter training was to her daughter “besides having the technical training, she learned poise, expression, stage presence, Janet learned “performance craft” in addition to dance.” Janet also learned how to change costumes quickly, in one instance she had just 11 seconds to do so. “ It is so important to have that presence, you can often go to the theatre and see a wonderful talent who is technically beautiful who does not smile and does not tell the story and dance is about telling the story!Dance can be a tough sell people on stage need to feel the music and the passion and tell the story in order to communicate with an audience”. Ohio Dance Theatre’s added performance outlet certainly added to Janet’s training.

Will the Highland dancer ever be able to bring the story of the dances to their audience or will the focus remain on the technique and how well the dancer performs technically the steps of those ancient dances?

The late Charlie Mill, a truly renowned Highland dancer and performer wrote,“It is true to say, without contradiction, that Scotland has always been a dancing nation, whose people are always prepared at the drop of a hat (or a dram!)To celebrate any particular occasion in the happy manner of the dance.Solo dances like the "Highland Fling" and "Sword Dance" seem to have been with the Scots since time immorial and, like the heather-clad hills, are hidden among the mists.

The art of Highland Dancing has been handed down over the centuries from one generation to another.It is an art that is impossible to standardize, and like music, is very difficult to write down. How can one transmit the deep feeling and basic sensation of tradition that is encountered, when attempting to be "taught" by instructions from a textbook?

True the raw beginner will learn the foot and arm movements of each dance, but like the dancer of today, I fear they will end up like clones of each other, all being fed the same basic information- and at the end of the production line we have "robots" performing in a mechanical way!I admit, you do come across the odd excellent dancer now and then, but again you can spot the signs-the performer, a replica of the dancer next to them! A good performance - but with no feeling!”

Surely for Highland to once again start telling the stories performance has to now come into the dancing equation. I have written about this "art form " for over a dozen years month in and month out sometimes 2 or 3 columns a month I personally believe that the art form is not moving forward but has reached astatus quo . I personally have seen very little growth infact, one of the reasons I am retiring the column is because I have covered most scenarios, the politics, the dancers the people change very little in those dozen or so years. Where is the excitement in Highland for the general population, the audience, Charlie Mill's words may yet come back to haunt.

On a personal note I would like to thank Bruce Campbell and the staff of Highland Dancing, Celtic World, Highland Gathering etc. for a great ride. However, the time has come to bid adieu to this column. It has become more difficult every month to find something new and fresh that I haven’t already covered over the years. It is time to take a break and focus on other aspects of my life. My deepest gratitude to Bruce and to you the readers, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with you all. I would also like to thank “Dancer” and editors Jo Hesh and publisher Owen Goldman who gave Highland Dancing a venue through my column for over 11 years. Bless you all!!!

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

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