Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

70th Anniversary Highland and National Championships. New Zealand" First appeared in "Dancer " March 2000

Charlie Mill, of "Who Would be a Dancing Judge?" fame was one of the invited adjudicators for this very prestigious event. Charlie was kind enough to send on to Dancer some thoughts and observations on the championship and the dancing.

" I felt very honoured indeed to be selected as an adjudicator….especially so when I discovered I was the first Scottish Judge ever to be given this accolade. I initially felt a bit of trepidation when I realized that the task in hand would be a whole new ball game from the styles of judging I was used to here at the Scottish Highland Games.

Where we in Scotland have, for many years, been evaluating dances like the Fling, Sword, Dean Truibhas, Reel, Sailor's Hornpipe and Irish Jig; in New Zealand the Highland was more or less the same, but their Sailors is different. It is so superior to the lazy style we've come to accept here in the northern hemisphere. They also have a single Jig (similar to our Irish Jig) plus a Double Jig, Shillelagh Jig, Irish Hornpipe and Irish Reel! I was very fortunate in that from the age of 11 I had been performing and continually studying all aspects of Irish Dancing. So it was a case of delving back into past memory and genning up on new styles and movements.
At the back of my mind was the reality that as well as the "new" dances; the actual style of the dancing was to be a completely new experience, with writers, report sheets, stage comments, presentations etc. To put you in the picture as to the general make-tip of the event, the Championships were to take place over four days in the Theatre Royal. Each day was broken into 3 judging sessions, so judging started at 8 in the am and went on til 9 or 10 pm. A bit of a shock, as in Scotland, the entire event would usually be held during one afternoon.

The four judges were introduced to our respective writers who would be at our sides -literally- throughout the four days. The task of the writer is to sit along side their allocated judge and take down the remarks that the judge dictates…the remarks sheets fill up with dancers good points and faults… at the end of every day dancers can collect the reports for each dance.

As the tempos of each dance were very important it was also up to every judge to discuss each tune with the four pipers. When a suitable tempo was arrived at it was transferred to a digital metronome, ensuring each dancer received the same steady tempo for each dance". (What may surprise competing dancers in North America not only do Championship contestants perform one at a time but full dances are executed 8 step Fling, 4&1 Swords, 6&2 Trews, full reels and 8 step hornpipes etc. Now wonder it is a four-day event!!! )

"What a pure delight it was for me (Charlie Mill) was the fact that every dancer executed steps of their own choice, steps they knew they excelled in that would catch the judges eye. What a difference this was to see each dancer enjoying themselves "doing their own thing" without the restrictions that permeate elsewhere in todays dancing scene…boredom showing on their faces. A little addition that the judges had to carry out was that during the presentation of the Championship awards each judge had to get up on stage and explain "WHY" he or she had come to their decision, specifying the good and bad points of the contestants, revealing their prizewinners and awarding them on stage with their awards.

The standard of Highland Dancing in New Zealand is very high with the early stimulus of practice combining energy and strength in the dancer. This shows in the culmination of the finished exponent, with the vast majority of the "adult" competitors displaying power along with precision in each performance. The icing on the cake for me was the "brilliant" Sailors Hornpipes. The New Zealand "sailor" puts us all to shame with a performance of depicting everyday duties on board ship- leaving the spectator breathless as he/she takes up the entire stage with arm and foot movements that truly make you feel you are "on board"! The technique of the New Zealand Jig, Double Jig etc. hits the spectator as truly traditional Irish dances, with no wild arm and skirt actions, which make our Scots version a frenzied entanglement of gymnastic prancing!

You may read more of Charlie Mill's New Zealand travels in the Scottish Banner.

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

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