Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

"Mothers and Others! Part 4"

When I started the questionnaire I thought probably that the article might take more than one months space. However, with each question answered another issue seems to come to light. I will make sure that the various Highland dance organizations worldwide receive copies of the articles and the concerns from "dancing mothers", teachers and others. Maybe some of the frustrations will be addressed.

My main frustration is, as readers of previous articles will know, the "Bent Back Betty syndrome. The dancer who in order to present a "turn-out" etc and good positions to the judge in front of them, from the side view has the shoulders and chest thrown forward and the "bum" thrust out. No centering of the body. You may see an example of this on the Cowal Highland Gathering website, home of the SOBHD World Championship. http://www.cowalgathering.com click on photos of the dancing. Apart from looking very unattractive (when viewed from the side) this "bad posture" coupled with the intensity and difficulty of Highland dance has to be causing major body problems i.e. back and knee and neck. So how many dancers are being taught proper alignment?

Q. Various dancers from yesteryear are very concerned that "dance" is not being taught but "choreography. Does your school deal with body alignment etc. and do they have a "dance" background other than Highland?

This was one of the questions that ended up being very confusing. My fault, as when I mentioned "choreography" most recipients took this to mean "choreography for competitions" My intent was "does your school teach dance body alignment etc. or just the highland steps and dances and how to perform them for the judges?" Interestingly enough the respondents who focus their teaching on the complete dancer, teachers who have other dance backgrounds other than Highland and the older generation of teachers knew exactly to which I was referring.

Mothers on the whole thought that body alignment was being taught if their teachers were teaching head and arm positions. Some teachers devote a lesson a month totally to alignment, others who teach within the confines of ballet studios rely on the "ballet" lessons to deal with alignment and centering. However it seems with very few exceptions most Highland dancers are being taught with the focus being on the lower half of the body and "how to perform the steps". This is very worrying due to the injuries that could and do result.

"Mum from Canada": "The teacher does stress good posture and knees over toes etc, but doesn't dwell on it for a long time"

"Another mum Cheryl from Canada" has a different experience. "Our teacher is constantly correcting form, in many cases because it will if continued cause injury …." These two answers were pretty much examples across the board from the respondents.

William Weaver, MS, ATC., President of FUSTA, Teacher and adjudicator as well the Coor.of Injury Prevention & Rehabilitation " Our school deals 98% with technique, alignment etc." He did note when I had contacted him previously about the "Bent Back Betty Syndrome" that I was seeing more and more at competitions here in the US and Canada "in my opinion, it is true that body alignment tends to be overlooked in most workshops and professional development sessions. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. The first reason for this may stem from the fact that often, teachers teach the way they were taught which means they focus on the things that their teachers focused on such as turn out, point and technique. To my recollection, correct body alignment wasn't worked on much in the 50's, 60's and 70's. The second reason is that although teachers are starting to think more about alignment and body mechanics, most teachers still feel it is more important to just work on turnout, point and technique whether they maintain good mechanics and alignment or not since, ultimately, those things are what the dancers are being judged on.

Recently, teachers are starting to understand the importance of proper alignment, but still don't know much about what it is or how to achieve it. Highland dancing teachers that also have some background in other, more traditional, forms of dance like ballet may have a slight advantage over the person who teaches, or has only danced, Highland. Having said that, just because someone has done, or teaches, ballet doesn't mean they know proper alignment. If you want proof, just watch a ballet recital some time and note how poorly centered, pointed and turned out most of the dancers are. I know many ballet teachers who know less about proper alignment than many Highland teachers.

I think it is very encouraging to see the move toward dancer safety whether it is through trying to teach proper body mechanics and alignment or trying to find sites with proper flooring for lessons and competitions. It is difficult to find Highland teachers with expertise in proper alignment although there are a few out there whose expertise could be taken advantage of. As a result, it tends to get overlooked at workshops and professional development sessions".

The question " Would you like to see dancers given critique sheets as to what they did wrong at a particular competition. Would you be willing to pay for either a written or taped critique?"

The answer from teachers, mothers and dancers was YES!!!
Even most of the judges who responded thought that if the logistics could be addressed (re time constraints making competitions longer) they would have no problems in giving critique sheets. Organizations other than SOBHD (as in New Zealand and VSU Australia etc.) have this procedure in place already, as do pipers and Irish dancers. In fact I was informed that many years ago the "judges notes" on a dancer used to be available in the past in the US and Canada. I had only one respondent saying No. " this is what Festivals and Medal tests are for". I personally have to disagree dancing in front of one judge/examiner during a festival or medal test and sitting in front of 2,3,4,5, judges in a competition and getting feedback on a dancers performance with the competitive stress is not the same thing."

"Would you like to see a parents or dancer organization geared especially for the dancer?

Mary Beth, HighXpress, and previous SOBHD World Champion, USA: - " I would like to see these organizations just open up more to parents. We already have enough organizations. Let's expand on what we have." Nearly every respondent echoed Mary Beth's answer.

There are indeed some organizations in place for the dancer and mother in pockets throughout the US and Canada such as, the Highland Dancers Assoc. in Ontario. These organizations are usually geared toward fundraising, and sharing information for the dancer/mum and are very successful. You may reach Elizabeth Smith of the HDAO at hdaosmith@aol.com . I am sure they would be only too willing to give any information on "how to".

The "rules and regulations" in the US, Canada, and other parts of the world that have come under the SOBHD umbrella; the agents (such as FUSTA and Scotdance) for the SOBHD in USA and Canada are definitely geared to the "professional". They run the registration of dancers, speak for their membership at SOBHD meeting etc. However as critical as it is these things to be in place the very "bottom line" without "dancers and their families" there would be no need for any organizations.

No one wanted more organizations. Some suggestions felt that even a newsletter put out by the various "professional organizations" geared specifically toward the dancer would help. Although most organizations put out newsletters to their professional members these on the whole do not trickle down specifically to the dancers and mothers. " A Parents Handbook". I wrote last year that one was in the works from FUSTA but haven't received any information in that area yet.

One young teacher from western USA thought it might be a good idea to have a separate "committee person" appointed or contact person in the various "professional organizations" that a dancer/mother could contact with questions/concerns. Although dancers/mums can ideally contact through their teacher this doesn't seem to be working. For example " I have sometimes had to wait for what I felt was the right moment to ask certain questions. Sometimes I just don't ask because I know it could come back to haunt someone and it most likely wouldn't be me" (note this is from a mum and I believe the not me would probably mean her dancer). (Our teacher) "is pretty good. Although her answer today, may not be her answer tomorrow. (Maybe that explains some of the judging!)" or "I don't think they (organizations) are parent friendly at all. In the issue of my concerns at Edmonton, the first question I was asked was "If I was a teacher?" the implication seemed to be….if not, don't bother!" and " Our teacher does not share the info that she gets (if any) things like costuming information could be distributed better. When I hear of what was given at the Vegas conference re costuming, I wonder how am I supposed to find that out. After 9 years I still don't know how to do that!"

Question: If you could ask any one question to anyone in the dancing world what would it be?

Young teacher Canada: " How do you gain respect/knowledge from other experienced teachers/judges if a young teacher has no real interest from their studio (meaning no top dancers coming out from the studio)?"

Mum, Canada "It would be difficult to make it just one, but it would be something around the judging. Explanation for the inconsistencies in a "rigid" SOBHD form perhaps. (Rigid is not my interpretation but it is that of many others"

Mum B. Canada: "it would be to the SOBHD- if you are putting rules on things and saying that all dancers must do this or follow this exactly, why are the rules such that interpretation is possible. (Goes on to give examples)

Jane Knox, SOHDA, Scotland (note Jane 's question was also echoed by dancers, mums teachers and members of other Highland organizations world-wide as well as members of the SOBHD): "I'll need to think more about that one but it would be to the SOBHD about their restrictive practices"

Mary Beth, SOBHD, USA. "Instead of spending money sending reps from Scotland over to review Championship steps, why not make a video and sell. This way all teachers could take advantage of the situation. So many are unable to afford traveling to these lectures and therefore they and their students lose out. The SOBHD could sell and make money on the video, plus all would benefit. Teachers and students!

So what are the answers?
After plowing through mountains of information it seems to me that "communication or lack of" is a primary problem. The costuming questions, the frustrations felt by dancers and mothers an teachers could be solved very simply with an "opening up of communication and sharing" whether it is costuming or restrictive organizations (not allowing my dancers to dance at your competitions even within it seems various allied organizations. From a Canadian mum, (her daughter is unable to dance at a BATD festival as her teacher isn't invited as she is not BATD) "it isn't my fault her (daughter) teacher isn't BATD!" and the New Zealand mums and dancers, VSU dancers SOHDA dancers who are restricted from dancing at SOBHD competitions echo the same thought. I think Mary Beth Miller /Klein summed it up very well in last months article.
"Let's stop being so petty and SHARE information with one another. We are all in it to progress and learn aren't we?"

Dance, heritage, tradition should never be restricted to the few by closing communication no matter the organization; whether between "professional" bodies or within those professional bodies. In the end what will suffer is the dance, heritage and tradition itself.

Note from Part two. Update on the mother and son who experienced major problems with a teacher who "had it in for the student and his mother". I am pleased to say after two months of going through all channels finally ending up in the offices of the top administrator, the problem was resolved to the satisfaction of the student and the "mother". It took a lot of persistence and follow through and paperwork to achieve the desired results.

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

Loraine Ritchey, 1127.W. 4th Street, Lorain, Ohio, 44052. < /P>

< STRONG>lritch7@yahoo.com