Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey


Mother's, we are a special group of people. We have been given our own day; subject of poetry, songs, movies, plays and Britain actually has 'Mothering Sunday'. However, we are also "stage mother's" (not so good). We are either too involved in our child or we are not involved enough. We must know our place when it comes to what is expected from us. Yes, it is fine to drive hither and yon, pay the bills, make sure your child practices, but we must also not interfere when it comes to lesson time or question or even watch (in some studios). How many theatre classes, sports practices, dance lessons would rather mum was not an observer? We are supposed to do our homework make sure that we are getting the "right teaching" but ask too many questions and you are labeled 'pushy mother'. It is very difficult to know just 'what our place is'.

The question I hear asked, especially with some of the inappropriate 'dance routines' (non- highland) that are coming to the fore, " where was the mother, how could she let her child perform that way?" Ultimately, we are where the "buck stops". We juggle the finances and time constraints to make sure our child can attain their personal dream, convince dad on occasion that the 10 hour drive to a competition and a night in a hotel is definitely worth the money and time spent. Oh! And that new kilt or the soccer cleats, costumes, well mum will just make do for another month with her needs.

Mother's we never stop being a mother and as long as mum is still with us on this earthly planet we never stop being the child. We sit quietly on bleachers. (Ever wonder why they are called that? I have my own theory and if you use the word as a verb instead of a noun you are close to my theory). We sit watching our child, especially in competition situations, stomach tight and barely breathing, savoring every moment and at the same time hoping it will soon be over. Then, the long, long wait for the judge's results. Putting on a happy, confident face for your little one telling him/her how pleased you are that no matter what the judges say you were so proud (and you were!) How well they performed at the same time your fingers are crossed and a little voice inside your head is saying " please, please, please let her number be called". When it is, you restrain from showing too much excitement as another mum is sitting next to you with a child whose number wasn't called. You have also been that mother trying to explain to your child why they didn't get called. You put on a brave face, being a good sportsman, teaching your child to deal with disappointment, when that little voice is back in your head " what's the matter with that judge? How could he/she bring in no 103, she didn't dance half as well as (name)". You are told to make sure little Johnny or Susie practices, but be careful for if you are seen to be too involved the question invariably asked is "Is it you that wants this, are you sure you are not living your life through you child". Mother's we walk a tight rope.

It doesn't stop even when they reach college, yes, you are expected to 'pay' be involved with the financial aspect, but "they are adults now" you're no longer wanted in the decision-making. Your child is now supposed to make life effecting decisions on what their future direction should be, when they still can't decide what they are doing Saturday! And woe betides the "soccer mum" who tries to talk to a college coach, or dance professor. Ladies it is NOT done, you are politely but firmly told your place. I speak from experience. Talk about "don't call us we'll call you".

So what brought about this latest column? Bleachers and a Soccer camp late last summer. Still in the role of Mother, this time with my son, who agreed to coach a soccer camp for 6-11 year olds for his college. Now, having to switch from the role of player's mother to coach's mother I at last had "some control" on how "mum felt the camp should be run". At last a coach who "had " to listen to me, if he wanted " a life worth living" (Elizabeth I to Mary Queen of Scots, Maxwell Anderson's play). We sat down and discussed the logistics the equipment, the number of children that were coming. Since there were 16 registered it was decided to add another coach as 11 should be the most children (especially at that age) for one coach, enough for one full team. Then since there were girls and boys who was going to take the little girls across the access road for bathroom breaks? You guessed it 'mum'. So I once again ended up on the "bleachers for three hours every morning for a week. Waiting to do my bathroom duty and make sure every one had their stuff, and that the water and snacks were available, setting up the big shade umbrella, chasing away the bees. Not so different than what I had been doing since my children started Highland Dance and Soccer. The same week saw 4 other camps on the surrounding fields each one run by a different prestigious soccer organizations. These are the pricier end of the scale, run by "professionals".

However, there was only one set of portable bleachers and we had them. I watched every morning as mums dropped off their little ones, some sat in the cars but none were permitted or encouraged to stay and watch the training. However, our camp had no such stipulation and mums came and watched and chatted. After a couple of mornings I noticed our little group had gown. It seems mothers from the other camps had realized they could still watch and blend in with our mothers. Tentatively the questions started to be asked. "How much are you paying? Why do you have two coaches for 16 children? Why are they playing that game?" The games are really designed to develop a soccer skill, but the children just found them fun. "Why are you allowed to stay? The coach who stayed behind to answer mums questions, (well he would wouldn't he, or he'd be answering to 'his' mother!) The differences with the camps soon became obvious.

As in most things a picture paints a thousand words. Even the most novices of mums was picking up the visual differences between the camps. On the average the other camps had 26 children for one coach (after all this was money making for the coaches and club) In fairness, since ours was college run we had the luxury of focusing on teaching and not the monetary concerns. Their exercises were repetitive. By mid week the other camps had lost numbers, however mum had paid so it really didn't matter to the club. Where the other camps finished earlier and earlier each day we were going longer and the kids were showing up earlier and earlier every morning. Being a "mum" I was very proud of my son and his ability to teach and entertain the children. I was pleasantly surprised at the side of him I had never experienced. At the end of the week the question asked "How do I know I am getting a worthwhile experience for my child and my money? Is there some one I can call to check? How do I know that my child is being taught properly? How can you tell if a coach has had proper training? What am I supposed to look for?" Listening to the questions I realized these were the same questions I had heard for years on 'Highland bleachers'. So armed with my Internet access, I developed a 'questionnaire' geared toward Mothers and others. The amount of responses was amazing so in the next month or so I am going to bring the concerns and hopefully some answers

To my fellow "bleacher buddies".

The first question to both mothers and teachers of Highland?

"Do you wish you name withheld from the article?" As usual this brought a varying response depending how "comfortable" and how new the mother or teacher was to the dancing fraternity.

I had over 160 responses to the questionnaire from all parts of the world. Very few moms were comfortable giving their names. Some were at first but by the end of the questionnaire they had "thought about it" and decided they would rather remain anonymous. Teachers were similar in their thinking, although the ones who were also "judges" had no such qualms. It seemed to a "man" (or woman) the newer the teacher, the less likely to have their names used.

Question no.26 was for the teachers: What do you consider a "mother from hell" to be.

Jane Knox, SOHDA, Scotland: "She wants her daughter to collect the silverware from every competition -she never does and I am afraid never will. She questions the judge's decision (which is usually spot on) when her daughter doesn't win. The daughter has the best outfits/shoes etc. money can buy. Her daughter hates Highland Dance- she is not athletic/sporty type and just does not enjoy exercise at all, but she is forced as her mother has a one-track mind on the subject of her daughter and Highland dance. She is very dominant with an uncontrollable temper (sounds nice eh?) I am still trying to deal with the mother from hell. Hopefully she will take up line dancing."

Bill and Liz Weaver. SOBHD, USA " Someone that tries to do the teacher's job or second guesses the teacher and pushes the dancer beyond their limits (psychologically or physically)"

New Teacher A Canada: Goes home and teaches differently from what the teacher says to correct, even though the parent hasn't attended a single class, parent thinks child can do no wrong. Actually I had a parent who would "boo" during the awards ceremony when other dancers placed above their child. I requested they leave my studio"

New Teacher B, USA. "Very wealthy mother, who knows nothing about Highland, but think she does. Mothers like that just know a little and then they 2nd guess the teacher, complain about the fact I must be teaching their child wrong. "Other dancers are doing it this way". Mothers who continually ask other teachers questions and get things wrong and then come back to me and blame my teaching instead of the child's lack of ability and lack of practice. Thinks that they will find the "secret" if they attend every workshop there is. Not telling the teacher where they are competing or what workshops they are attending, then getting angry with me when they have entered a competition or workshop they aren't ready for. Going behind my back talking about other students and my studio in a very negative way. Luckily both she and her daughter have moved on, but I think some other teachers also enable this type of behavior by listening and their lack of professionalism in buying into the mother when they change studios, without contacting the previous teacher when the mother has changes studios."

Nicole Ritchey,SOBHD .USA " As a dancer I thought my mother was the "mother from hell" She was always on to me to practice etc. Made me get up on a Saturday and go for lessons when I would've rather stayed in bed. I realize now that she was teaching me commitment and that it takes hard work, all the life lessons. I didn't thank her for it at the time. But I have seen mothers at competitions, usually off away from the teachers yelling and screaming at their kids. "Why did you do this or that, you had better shape up etc". Dancers, who come off the platform in tears because they made a mistake and will have to face their mother. Dancer's who are dancing in pain. Mothers putting the dancing and what other people thought before the welfare of their own child. I think sometimes they want their child to be "the best", maybe because something is lacking in their own lives. The competition and the dance should only be a "part" of a child's life not the whole reason for every waking moment. I have had the mother who 2nd guesses everything I do. Thinks because I am young I must not be knowledgeable and they moved on to another teacher. (DANCER'S NOTE) (This respondent happens to be "this" mother's daughter)

Teacher, SOBHD C. Scotland. "I have been teaching for some years now, I have had one or two mothers that I have had to ask to leave. The majority of parents try very hard to do what is right for their dancer. It is easier if the mother has some knowledge or was a dancer. However, as the dance is becoming more competitive in aspect and more expensive; I have noticed a different "type" of parent bringing their child. I ask in the beginning, "What do you "want " from the dance?" I ask this separately to both child and parent. The two parents (not necessarily mothers) that have really given me problems were in it for the wrong reasons, "the prize giving and awards". I am teaching dance and a culture the prizes are secondary for my studio and a nice reward for hard work. When "prizes" are uppermost for the parent. I tell them from the beginning our "philosophy of the dance is different it may be better if they would keep looking for another teacher."

So Now the Question to the Mother's "What would your ideal teachers be like?"

Kathleen Hearty. (3 years). The ideal teacher would be open, friendly, encouraging, enthusiastic, fun, be involved, forth-coming with information, not pushy about competing, demanding the best the student can do but not expecting the impossible. (Hey, my daughter's teacher stacks up pretty well!!)

Mum A. Canada. "Someone who worried about the development of the dancer as a whole-teenagers have other concerns than just dance. Someone who does some professional development -not just looks in the book. My daughter asked her teacher if she should be doing a step in a certain way - different than what she was taught - because everyone else was doing it that way. The teacher gave her a bad time about "Don't you trust me?" When my daughter got off the stage, -having done it the way she was taught-the teacher said, "Yes, you should have done it the other way." That is not fair to the dancer. The teacher needs to have all the nuances to teach the dancer- not just what she "thinks" the book says. Someone who doesn't give the dancers a bad time just before they go on stage. An example was the teacher telling my daughter that her national costume was wrong (she had only worn it for about 4 years) just before she went on stage at a championship. What is worse, the teacher was wrong by my daughter go to go on stage very upset. Someone who saves the criticism until after the competition is done, telling the dancer what they did wrong in the Fling right after the Fling, doesn't help to improve the dancing in the other dances.

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

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