Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

South African Celtic Dancer by Loraine Ritchey

As the Scots and Irish traveled and settled the world their heritage and culture traveled with them.The dances of Scotland and Ireland ended up in Canada, USA, New Zealand and Australia to name but a few.This month I am pleased to bring you correspondence from a young lady from South Africa, Leonie Thompson, 21 from Johannesburg.

Leonie Thompson and teacher Mrryl Hofmeyr

“ I am a Highland and Irish dancer in Johannesburg South African based studio – The Shaw Butler Highland and Irish dance studio, under the teachings of Merryl Hofmeyr.I started doing Highland dancing about 16 years ago as my parents had an Scottish au pair to look after us and she introduced us to Highland dancing.Merryl also offered Irish, which I joined later on.Earlier this year I was also chosen to be a part of a Gauteng team to travel by train down to Cape Town to compete in the Interprovincial competition held there.In Merryl’s studio however we also put on shows at least once a year to raise funds, which is tremendous fun as we get to come up with dances each year.Each show is a combination of Highland and Irish and The Pretoria Highlanders Pipe Band.

I enjoy both dance forms.I enjoy the strength and discipline of the Highland and especially the strong sense of tradition and culture that goes with it and I enjoy the Irish for its flexibility and grace.I think that the differences are the way in which they are perceived.In my opinion as a dancer of both forms Highland is more formal and the Irish is something new and fresh and you would find that an Irish competition there would be a lot more people/competitors.However I do feel that both forms are taken seriously. Irish is now getting a bit more serious and becoming like a stepping stone as in 2006 we will hold our first ever National Irish Championships.However the Highland has a place in my heart.It has taught me so much about life that it’s gotten me through the tough times and experienced the good times with me.I love the power and grace that Highland provides and it has captured a place in my heart that will remain always.I am an avid believer that to truly dance one needs to dance from the heart.”

I asked Leonie about the dancing in South Africa and whether they had a “national championship” similar to Canada and the USA and in recent years the introduction of Scottish National Championship in Scotland. The past two years has found the “SOBHD restricted National Scottish Championship held in conjunction with Cowal and the SOBHD Worlds. South Africa is also an affiliate member of the SOBHD so the dancing in South Africa is also following the SOBHD technique.Leonie went on to tell “Dancer”

“We do have a annual South African Highland Dancing championship which is held in Johannesburg round about June, July.All provinces come to compete and at the end of the day the top 6 championship dancers of the 3 categories do a championship fling!We don’t have Highland games like in Scotland, we have gatherings and on the occasion our gathering would maybe be along side a pipe band competition, or with a fete of some sorts.

In 2002 I went to Scotland to compete in a Scottish competition and watch the Irish world championships, later on that year I traveled back to Scotland as I was chosen to be part of a 15-member team to dance in the Edinburgh tattoo for the Queens Golden Jubilee and we stayed on to compete at Cowal.That year was the largest South African participation at Cowal
(“Dancer” note Cowal 2004 found a contingency of 6 dancers from South Africa)

“I would say to a new traveler to enjoy it.To relax and just don’t compare or stress out. It is an amazing experience to dance overseas,to see the standard of their work.What surprised me was the fact that at a Scottish gathering there were so many championship dancers and those at an extremely young age were doing leap high cuts already”

It seems that like most of the Highland world there is very little in the way of incentives for the Highland Dancer in South Africa “unfortunately there are no scholarships or incentives besides the title for a championship dancer!”

Leonies best Highland experience was “joining a troupe of 15 dancers to dance at the Edinburgh tattoo.It was a fantastic experience, one that I don’t think that I’ll ever forget.To dance in Scotland, the home place of Highland dancing and to be among people who love what they do is amazing.I love my dancing and the experience just was another piece in the puzzle”

Leonie concluded the interview with advice to young dancer to” love what they do and to dance from the heart. Dancing is a reflection of the song in your heart and if you enjoy it you’ll do your best and it can teach you lessons about life. At times when it seems bad and as if its not going well, stick with it cause you’ll get there.” Good advice no matter the language or dialect in which they are spoken but also reaches across all forms of dance.

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

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