Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

"A Mother's Story"

There are so many times that we "mums" must hold our tongue. To be seen to be proud of her daughter or son, to see the wonder of our children and want to share with everyone is not always possible and we might be accused of being biased, so we keep quiet. Not often can we say to the world what is in our hearts. I asked the mum, Margaret O'Donnell of a New Zealand dancer Shiobhan to tell me a little of her dancing family.

New Zealands children

"I am sitting here sorting, folding, and enveloping the Kiltie Club magazine for Highland Dancers. This magazine is sent out to subscribers three times a year and my daughters; Shiobhan and Jacqui are now the editors. While doing this task I am asking myself where did this all happen, how am I, a mother, asked to take the pressure off my two daughters and do this important (their words) job?

I reflect and my mind goes back to a very important Saturday morning when I was only about eight years of age and my parents took my two sisters and two brothers and myself to the Caledonian Hall in Christchurch, New Zealand, and we, with many other children, were introduced to the art of Highland Dancing. There I learnt the Highland Fling, the Sword Dance, and the Seann Triubhais. I was very lucky to be chosen by a teacher for her dance school where I learnt many more dances, for competitions and concerts.

I remember the thrill of dancing in the monthly concerts for the public at the Caledonian functions. It was especially fun when the hall was cleared for the Pipe Band to strut there pipes and drums as a preview for the dancing by the public. This always started with the pipers partnering the dancers and swinging us way up in the air. I always felt so important then.

From these beautiful experiences, memories, it was only natural for me to steer my children into Highland Dancing. My eldest daughter (Margaret) was good but more interested in playing sport, but the skills she learnt with dancing help her with the self-confidence acquired. She is now a schoolteacher.

My next daughter (Judy) was a beautiful dancer but was not so keen with competitions but very interested in the social side of meeting friends etc. She worked for years in a government department but has now given this up to go to Otago University to study and hopes to be a Lawyer

My next daughter Jacqui was very competitive and used to practice hard every day, so it was no surprise to me when she achieved success with all of her examinations, even to be one of the few to get Solo Seal [performance examination in New Zealand] and many championships events. She is now a very good primary school teacher as well as teacher in dancing.

Shiobhan my youngest daughter (ten years between Jacqui and Shiobhan) was not supposed to learn, but behind my back Judy and Jacqui taught Shiobhan how to dance and then it was only a matter of time before she was on the stage performing. I used to feel a little sorry for her as she was expected to be able to dance the same as her sisters, but she was not them, in both build and temperament, and had a style all of her own. This made dancing a little tough for her, but looking back a very good learning curve developing skills and character building for her. She is now an educator in the Otago Museum and teaching dancing as well. Shiobhan is still competing (taking many championships and intending to sit Solo Seal this year) and enjoying dancing for the public at functions, along side her pupils. Her pupils (and other children) all call her "Aunty Shiobhan" and flock to her for advice, help etc. Both girls are qualified judges.

I am also very lucky to have grand children now learning. Judy's daughter Julia learnt up to a couple of years ago. She would have loved to have kept on learning (from Shiobhan) but unfortunately she has leg problems which are related to her growth (muscles growing at a different rate to her bones) but while she was competing she was a very successful dancer, nearly always being placed and winning the odd championship.

Jacqui's two children are learning (Shiobhan teachers Jemma and Jacqui teachers Liam). Jemma has a lot of success at competitions and Liam is going to dance in his first competitions in a couple of week's time (if he gets up on the stage).

As I watch the children perform I wonder at the madness of getting up 5.00am in the morning putting all the kids who are going in the car and then travelling to competitions three hours away and then getting home just before midnight, or picking up all the children after work (5.00pm) and school and travelling to a venue more than five hours away just to compete the next day.

The making of jellies for our local competitions, serving on the committee and doing my stint at stage managing, or giving out the reports. Why do I do this? Well it is not just the pride in my Scottish ancestry, it is the pride of my children and the joy they get and give to others with their dancing.

I have seen them take a child who is very awkward, clumsy and unsure of themselves and teach them how to dance. The benefit these children get at achieving and getting a medal, sets them up for achieving anything they wish to do in the future. I have heard schoolteachers saying that you can tell the children who dance, play music or do activities that are outside the schoolroom. They say that they are able to learn with much more confidence than children who do not have an opportunity to do outside activities.

Have you ever notice the joy mum, dad, or other family members get when their child gets on the stage and goes through the dance with great concentration and when they complete the dance they just beam at their family knowing they have done it. You cannot ever replace that joy. I know that these are just some of the reasons. I am just a mum being there for my girls and making it possible for them to carry on with their great love of Highland Dancing.

I cannot ever thank the people who have run raffles or the scholarships my daughters have received making it possible for them to go to conference, or pay for their dancing lessons.

My greatest fear is that this love of Highland Dancing could be lost if politics and selfishness of different societies, could interfere with the thrill of meeting many good people, either in person or electronically, who have a common interest in the advancement of Highland Dancing.

I would like to end by saying that on my television is the most beautiful gold cup won by Shiobhan at the South Canterbury Championship meeting, which was held last week This cup is in memory of Mrs. Orma Smith MBE, who passed away last year.(DANCER note:you may read of Mrs Smith on the webpage) Mrs. Smith was a dancing teacher, judge, examiner and every one in New Zealand and many people in Scotland other places abroad will have known of her. In dancing terms she would have been one of the pioneers in setting up our Academy of Highland Dancing. Her devotion to this form of dance cannot be measured, and it is thanks to her and many others of her generation that we have achieved such high levels of dance, in which we are most proud of.

As a mother do I have any regret? No, I am proud of my daughters and what they achieve and just as I know that there are many other mothers who are just as equally proud of their children.

Happy dancing.

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

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