Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

Photos: l-r Margaret Spiers, Kirstine Hunter Piper Jack Ilgunas Jane Knox Heather Palmer

The Hullachan Dancers with Prince Edward and Sophie ( Earl and Countess of Wessex in Qatar

Dancers from Belfast Norther Ireland with Lord Laird,The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Instructor Jane Knox and Examiner Daisy MacKenzie

Highland has certainly been traveling of late from the high seas to the Arabian Gulf and Qatar and yes! the art of Highland dance has now reached the shores of Ireland. Jane Knox, who was and is involved with both expeditions, has kept a diary for the readers of "DANCER"

The Hullachan Dancers - Qatar 2001 Jane Knox

In March this year, Jack Ilgunas, a piper with the Scots Guards along with four highland dancers were invited by the British Embassy to perform at 'British Week' in the State of Qatar in the Arabian Gulf. Heather Palmer, Margaret-Ann Spiers, Kirstine Hunter and myself (Jane Knox), all successful Open/Premier competitive dancers (Heather and I now have fairly large schools of our own and no longer compete) knew each other before the trip through the dancing world, even though we all live in different areas of Scotland and are members of different dancing organizations.(DANCER note Jane is with the SOHDA and Heather is a member of the SOBHD)

We landed in Doha, Qatar late at night on Wednesday the 28th March. Every Arabic man was dressed traditionally in pristine white robes and elaborate headgear with accompanying Gucci shades and up-to-the-minute mobile phones. The few women we saw were covered from head to toe in black with extremely inquisitive eyes peeping out at us! We were immediately treated like V.I.P's- staying in a 5-star hotel with our every whim catered for. Two brand new range-Rovers at our beck and call for the duration of our stay to take us to our functions (this was also very handy for shopping expeditions!) After a good night's sleep at our, the kilts came out and the pipes were tuned up. As it turned out the General Manager of our hotel, came from the Isle of Bute, as does Margaret-Ann so they had much to talk about. Our Schedule was as follows:

Thurs 29th March

Dancing at opening of 'It's Knockout' Sports Tournament at Doha Rugby Club for Expatriates. Bit of a surprise to discover we had to dance of lumpy brick- hard grass. It was midday, 40 degrees and in direct sunlight. Not the weather we usually dance in I must admit! The RFC hospitality was second to none. After 6 hours of hospitality…ahem. We gave an impromptu performance inside the clubhouse. Everyone's spirits were high, the atmosphere was electric and as soon as the pipes started and we did a couple of dances we had the majority of the audience up on their feet doing their own interpretation of highland! It was a great night and what a fantastic way to start the trip.

Fri 30th

Doha Rugby Club again. Dancing at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Rugby Nations Tournament for Expatriates. Another brilliant and appreciative crowd (it makes such a difference!) This time we were prepared for the grass and the heat!

Sat 31st and Sun 1st April

Rest days for us dancers. Poor Jack had to work on board HMS Lancaster whilst we lounged by the pool - it's a hard life!

Monday 2nd April

The Earl and Countess of Wessex arrive in Qatar for 'British Week'. This morning we danced at the launch of the British Airways (who sponsored our lovely Club Class flights, thank you!) Clubworld seat. The Earl and Countess launched the seat and we were all completely star struck to see them both in the flesh. Later in the day we are scheduled to dance at the official opening of 'British Week' at a new multi-million pound shopping mall. Due to political sensitivities, we were asked if we could possibly just stand instead of dancing as the venue was open to the public and the sight of knees and a bit of leg would offend - no problem to us, so we stood and posed beside Prince Edward and Sophie whilst The Marching Band of the Parachute Regiment were working hard in the heat. We then attended a drinks reception (still posing) with the British Embassy, British Airways and the Royal Party. As we were introduced to the Royals, which was very nerve-racking, it turned out that during the conversation Margaret-Ann funnily enough knew The Countess' cousin from, wait for it….. The Isle of Bute, so they chatted like old friends and caught up with Bute life!!

Tuesday 3rd April

Danced at British Airways athletic event, then onto a ladies-only Fashion show at the new Hilton hotel in Doha for both Arabic and Expatriate women. As Arabic ladies were present and were allowed to remove their head- dresses in the female only environment, Jack (the bagpiper) posed a fairly major problem for the organizers! We danced on stage, Jack played for us whilst standing away from us, behind a screen so that he and the Arabic women could not see each other. A good exercise in piper/dancer telepathy, it went well! In the evening we were invited as guests to a cocktail party to honour the Queen's birthday at H.M. Ambassador's Residence. After an initial fashion dilemma (as most weeks we don't usually attend Ambassador's Parties) we arrived at the grandest location, I think the embassy staff that had been looking after us barely recognized us without our kilts on! We enjoyed a magical evening, held in the Ambassador's stunning fairy light and candle-lit grounds, mingling with all sorts of interesting people, It was a night to remember and I don't think I will ever be at something like this ever again. Oh, Margaret-Ann and her new Royal friend had a chat again!

Wednesday 4th April

Opening of British stores in another new mall. Again due to political sensitivities we could only stand, once again the Para Band were working like Trojans whilst we posed, we did feel a bit guilty. We were standing next to The Earl and Countess who must have been sick of the sight of us, but were extremely friendly and good humoured and asked us how the sunburn was. Later in the day we danced at a British Airways event and in the Evening danced in a lovely Show at our hotel, The Ramada, which was hosted by ex-football manager Tommy Docherty.

Thursday 5th April

Danced at Doha School Fete, the hottest day yet 45 degrees again in the blazing sun and on concrete to boot! We then went onto a British Airways function, we were asked to begin and as soon as Jack struck up with the pipes we had numerous Arabic men running towards us waving their arms about. Thankfully we dancers didn't get further than the bow. It turned out to be bad timing on the organizers part as they asked us to start just as the Mosque was announcing its call to prayer, after some placation of the Arabic gentlemen by the organizers, we posed quietly for half an hour then got on with the dancing again!

Friday 6th April

Last function - danced at the opening of the Scotland v England expatriates football match. Another great crowd, Jack went to the Scot's dressing room and roused them up with Flower of Scotland at half time. Scotland's team spirit was great, unfortunately the football was not quite so good, and they lost! We had a rest day on Sat 7th April, and flew home on Sunday.

By the end of the trip we were all the best of friends. We had complete trust in each other and if something went wrong i.e. the day jack forgot what Heather and I were dancing so he played the tune to the Blue Bonnets (actually we were dancing the Seann Truibhas) we just grinned at each other and got on with it - no panic. We thoroughly enjoyed dancing as together as a team and felt that we worked well together; it was so refreshing to dance with one another instead of against one another. Qatar was a great place, and we were met with kindness wherever we went. All in all, we had the trip of a lifetime.

Since our trip then we have become 'The Hullachan Dancers', and are now taking booking for performances.

Then Jane our intrepid dancer and teacher traveled to Ireland to teach the ancient dances of Scotland in the land of Riverdance, Belfast, Ireland.

Northern Ireland's First Highland Dance Exams

On March 10th this year, Belfast hosted the first ever Highland dance exams in Northern Ireland. Seventeen candidates from The East Belfast Scottish Dancers who are all members of The Scottish Official Highland Dancing Association sat Highland exams, from pre-primary to Bronze. Despite the nerves on which was such a new experience and on such an important day, all of the dancers passed with very good marks including several honours grades. The exams were held in Belfast's stunning City Hall, where a film crew who were making a small TV. Piece followed us around. After the exams were over, an awards ceremony was held to mark this special occasion. The Lord Mayor of Belfast Sam Brown and Lord Laird presented the dancers with their certificates, critiques and trophies. Daisy Mackenzie (Vice-President of the S.O.H.D.A) and John Collins were the appointed examiners for the day. Mrs. MacKenzie said she was 'Pleasantly surprised by the high standard of the dancers' and she was also 'Delighted to be taking part in this historical Ulster-Scots alliance'.

The dancers have been taking highland classes for approximately eighteen months, which have proved extremely popular in Northern Ireland. They are taught by Jane Knox, who flies to Belfast every two weeks to teach. Further exams have been planned for December 2001 with forty candidates taking part this time. Ruth Browne, the project manager with The East Belfast Scottish Dancers is currently studying with Jane and will sit her full teachers exam in December. She then hopes to begin teaching herself in and around the Belfast area. The Belfast dancers are currently planning several visits to Scotland to compete at some of the independent/S.O.H.D.A. games and competitions. Jane Knox

It seems that dance and dancers are able to cross borders and boundaries, my thought wouldn't it be great if the organizations could do the same. Good luck and congratulations to the "Hullachan Dancers" in ALL their endeavors.

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

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