Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

Is there life after your child no longer competes? Your job as chauffeur, financier, dresser, fan etc is over with and done. Your child may have grown to no longer be involved in the Highland Dance world or become a teacher (maybe you have some involvement in that case, probably 2nd hand). Your days are no longer filled with the "urgent" requirements and planning that your role as a Highland mother requires. Other things fill the void and life goes on. This was brought home to me recently at the Ohio Games. I rarely travel far to competitions anymore relying on very special people to report the events of the day. However, Ohio Scottish Games in Oberlin are very close to home and since it is a championship as well as a "regular" competition in the morning it is usually a good indicator of how the dance and dancers are fairing on a national level. It is also a great place to catch up with old friends, mums who are still carrying the dance gear for their younger child or grandchild in some cases. Dancers who are now teachers themselves surrounded by little girls and sometimes a little boy all eagerly practicing that step in the Fling. I was especially looking forward to Ohio as a "little" dancer and her mum were competing in Ohio for the first time and to renew old acquaintance. I remembered a lovely little girl, quiet and very pretty. That was the child I was expecting. Life and time does indeed go on, something I seem to forget sometimes. Expecting to see a little taller version of the dancer I remembered I was amazed at the beautiful elegant young lady that stood before me. I felt the years all come crashing around me. How could the child have become the young woman I saw before me?

I had, of course, had word of "Dayna" I would see her name in the winner's lists from various competitions and championships. Dayna is a Canadian dancer from Ontario (readers will be aware that Canada and especially Ontario has a very very strong standard of dancing. So seeing that Dayna was placing and winning trophies I naturally assumed she was a strong dancer. Therefore, I eagerly awaited watching her performance on the boards in the afternoon. Unfortunately, once again in the 17 and under there were not enough dancers (6 required) to hold the championship in the 17's. Disappointing, but watching the "little girl turned woman" the audience would never have known it from the way Dayna danced. Her fluid yet strong performance embodied everything that this observer likes to see in a "dancer". No fake smile, no pumping, elegant hands and arm positions. Could this be the little girl I used to watch jumping up and down on the warm-up mat at competitions. The look of joy that shone through her features as she danced came not from encouragement to "smile". She needed no encouragement! The sheer love of the performance and dance was already within her being. Not just a technician this dancer. Ah! I can hear it now," well your biased". Probably yes! But the audience behind me wasn't and neither were the dancers from the morning who stayed after catching her Fling. She managed to please not only the judges but also the audience, who was also made up of her peers. The goal of any performer and she most certainly accomplished that with grace and strength. Dayna, now 17, has been dancing since the age of 9. " my teacher was dancing at my grandparent's wedding anniversary and I thought that I would like to try it". The relationship with her teacher Jennifer (Smith) Sauve continues to this day. I am told the two work tirelessly together to improve and hewn the dancing technique. It seems my observation and faith in Dayna's dancing ability was indeed justified. This past weekend at the Embro, Ontario competition Dayna went home with another trophy and 4 1st place standings. Is there life after dancing and life in the dancing. Yes, when there are dancers like Dayna to carry on the culture.

"Not enough dancers for a championship!" This has happened quite often in the past couple of years. This mainly affects the "older" age groups. 17 and the 18 and over. Of course there are many reasons for this happening, school, college, work, other interests coming into play, romance, not enough time in busy young lives to practice to maintain the standard Championship level competing requires. The expense coupled with other expenses , such as college, bodies rebelling against years of dancing. These reasons are all part of the mix that causes only 3 dancers in the 17 and under Championship in Ohio. It does not make it any easier to swallow when dancers have traveled and geared themselves mentally and physically for a championship competition and the expense of hotel and "those terrible gas prices". Organizers can only go by the entries received , for instance 7 dancers were entered in the 17's at Ohio. Can the organizer be held responsible that only 3 danced? I would hope that any dancer entered in a championship would have the "manners" to inform the organizer that they weren't coming thereby freeing the organizer to phone the other entrants with the information there aren't enough dancers for a championship and let the rest of the entrants decide if they still wish to participate.

There is, on a brighter note, another phenomenon seems to be happening in the Highland dance world. Where as competition organizers are in some cases beating the bushes to find dancers in the 17 and 18 and over Premier age group. There are "older dancers" making their way back into the dancing scene the over 21's and indeed in some cases the over 41's. Contacting this varied group worldwide through the Highland "lists on the net" I was surprised by their number and responses to set questions. These dancers range from beginners to dancers who competed in their youth and decided to give it a try again to dancers that have maintained their training through the years. Indeed one of "reps" for this years USIR is definitely one of the way over 21's as well as dancers in their early and middle twenties.

This year the novice category in Ohio had Julia Santoro winning the trophy. Julia is 24. Julia who has only been dancing for a couple of years has thrown herself wholeheartedly into Highland. It seems she is not alone and next month I will be bringing you some of the stories and the plus' and minus' of being an "older dancer". A few do not wish their names used and a couple not their age with their names and no "vanity thy name is woman" doesn't always apply here. But to begin why would a dancer over the age of 21 "start" to dance Highland

Q. If you are a fairly recent participant in Highland what made you try dancing, Highland in particular?

Tim age 36 UK. Tim was 29 when he started Highland. "This is a good question, and one I asked myself when I felt awkward or uncomfortable………from an early age I was interested in Scottish culture. We had a couple of Scots in our class at school and they received the usual jibes about haggis and kilts etc. In some ways though I envied their pride in their heritage and culture. I remember going to a local Highland Games and being impressed with the agility of the dancers and the enjoyment and pride that came through in their dancing. As a rugby playing English schoolboy I was way too embarrassed to ask my parents for any kind of dance lessons, let alone dancing that was performed wearing a 'pleated skirt'." Tim was in the United States when looking for some sort of organized exercise he went to a Highland dance teacher. "When the opportunity to dance in a performance came up I went out and bought a Kilt, Prince Charlie (jacket) etc gritted my teeth and turned up at the old folks home where we were to perform. The other dancers were complimentary about my kilt, so I went out confidently and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Dancing for the first time to a real piper in full highland dress was a great thrill. I really enjoyed sharing my appreciation for Scottish culture and really felt I understood the national pride the Scots have.

Dancer A, from the US age 24,started dancing at 22. "I was bored, working 60+ hrs per week. I needed something. I wanted to learn Irish dance like in Riverdance, but none of the schools returned my phone calls. Classes were booked for 2 years and no one wanted to take on a beginner. I called one last attempt to a ballet studio seeing if they could help, and a Scottish lady answered and tried to explain Highland. I went to the studio and the following week saw adults, over age 30, dancing learning and laughing with the teachers. I signed up at that moment and started after the Xmas break."

Jen Schoonover also USA,age 28 was 25 when she found Highland. "I saw Highland dancing for the first time at the Celtic Classic festival in Bethlehem when I was 20, probably. I was totally amazed by it, but the only lessons for Scottish dance I could find nearby were for country dancing, which I started doing at 21. When I moved to New York City in 1996, I saw an advertisement by the New York City Caledonian Club and attended faithfully. I loved doing it as much as I had loved watching it. Since moving to Boston, I have been able to take even more classes with different teachers."

Just three of the respondents, but I think you will see there is a common denominator running through each answer. They started dancing because they saw in the dancing pride, culture, love and appreciation for the art form. To be continued………………………

Kudos have to go to the organizers this year of the Ohio Scottish Games, dancing venue. It was immediately apparent that this writers comments about the problems faced last year, total canvas enclosure of the area ( leading to extremely uncomfortable conditions the bar-b-que pit and the rigidity of the organizers) had been taken note of and addressed. Dropping the vast canvas curtains at either end, use of powerful fans and pleasant faces at the check in made for a much more enjoyable experience. Thank you to all those who worked so diligently. Now if they could do something about the parking……………………..

Questions comments Loraine Ritchey,1127 W.4th Street, Lorain, OH 44052 440.246.6046

e-mail lritch7@yahoo.com , ritch@adelphia.net