Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

"Will the Real Victor Wesley Please Stand Up!"

A Commentary by Loraine Ritchey

Recent weeks has found the "poster boy" for freedom of dance and organizations requesting of the SOBHD permission to take his SOBHD Adjudicators exam. Wesley announced his decision through Celtic World. The decision caught his fellow SOHDA compatriots and NZ Academy members by surprise.

This writer was first introduced to Mr. Wesley when he complained to my publisher of the inaccuracy of my reporting that Highland dance was totally governed by the SOBHD. Mr. Wesley introduced me to the other organizations of Highland. He was the quintessential spokesperson for "Highland Dance Freedom".

Throughout the years, Wesley has been adamant in his stance of unrestricted dancing, discriminatory practices by the SOBHD and FUSTA in the USA. Wesley strenuously has objected to at least two SOBHD rules, " the prevention of those registered with the Board (SOBHD) from becoming members or organizations outside its control". Also " the ineligibility of a competitor or judge, who has taken part in any "so called" championship not recognized by the Board, to compete or adjudicate in any championship or competition under Board rules until "given permission" to do so by the Board".

Wesley has been the subject of many articles on the subject as well as filing lawsuits and complaining as recently as May 2002 to various government agencies both within the United States and UK. He has involved in his cause and advocacy for freedom of choice Senators, the IRS, INS Inland Revenue, attorneys both in the US and UK, the list is lengthy. He has had articles in UK newspapers on the subject as well in Dancer Magazine USA and Celtic World. Past articles on Mr. Wesley can be found at http://lritch7.tripod.com . He has spent many thousands of his own money fighting the SOBHD.

As recently as 3 months ago Mr. Wesley was quoted in answer to an observation by the Chairman of the SOBHD Shendl Russell . Contacting Mr. Wesley his response. " How many times do I have to say this? I DO NOT WISH TO JOIN THE SOBHD! I have no wish to be a SOBHD adjudicator". Now less than a Highland season later Wesley does a complete about face.

The question has to be asked WHY? What changed in the course of three months that has turned one of the greatest dancers and greatest proponents of open dancing and unrestricted membership into "joining the club" he so adamantly kicked against for years?

February of 2003 found Gillian Whitelaw, also one of the proponents of open dancing, leaving her "open association" (SOHDA) to go with the "closed" SOBHD. She too had been actively against the SOBHD stance of restrictive practices. Her decision seems to have been based on the need for greater exposure and the chance of a World Champion. The recognized World Highland Dance Championship are held at Cowal Gathering yearly but restricted to SOBHD dancers only and of course only to SOBHD adjudicators. Speaking to Wesley after the " Whitelaw Walks" account he was angered at what he saw as a betrayal of the SOHDA for personal gain. Yet within the year Wesley , it seems has done what he found despicable in another.

Wesley, as he told me recently in a phone conversation , applied to the SOBHD, Edinburgh the week before Braemar Gathering, to take his adjudicators exam for the SOBHD. He has applied, as he stated " to take the Exam at the Delco Workshop in February". Ironically the same venue and organizers that were the subject of one of his lawsuits.

Can it be the lure of wanting to adjudicate the Cowal Championships that has enticed Wesley to enter the "closed" door of the SOBHD that he fought so strenuously to open? Wesley stated "I believe I can make more of a difference with in the organization" Coming from anyone but Wesley may be seen as altruistic, but Wesley knows all to well the "wheels within wheels" that make up the SOBHD Board. Wesley is anything but naïve , knowing full well how people who have been involved and respected amongst their fellow Board members have failed to make a dent in the "open dancing issue".

Gareth &Deryck Mitchelson also SOBHD World Champions, FUSTA, Granite City and Cowal Gathering themselves have failed to date to change the "closed shop closed minded" positions of the majority of SOBHD affiliate members such as the BATD and UKA etc. Wesley's' rationale therefore of "I hope I can make a difference from the inside of the organization" falls somewhat flat to the ear of this writer.

In the meantime those who have in the past come to the defense of Mr. Wesley such as Daisy McKenzie (Highland Dancing , The Good Bad and Ugly Pt. 1 Celtic World 2003) are left hurt and perplexed at this sudden change of face. Phoning from Scotland Daisy stated " I am so terribly disappointed in Victor, and feel betrayed ! Why is he joining the SOBHD? What good reason? They (SOBHD org) haven't changed their position. why has he? I am terrible angry with him and disappointed that he does not "stand and be counted".

Victor, Daisy and Alex with the Proclamation

There is a sour note once again in the music of Highland and this time coming from an unexpected instrument.

January 2, 2004
It seems that Victor Wesley and Gillian Whitelaw aren't the first to change horses in midstream after making public declarations to the press of their "principled stances of freedom of the dance" when it suits them.

An article "Dancing Boycott " put out by Cowal Highland Gathering published in the Highlander had Cowal crying foul! And I quote.....

Never became Members

"Although Cowal Highland Gathering were interested in the formation of the Board and until recently made donations to their funds they never became members of the Board for the simple reason that the Board DID NOT represent ALL associations interested in Highland Dancing throughout Scotland and elsewhere!

Question Loraine Ritchey to Cowal: presumably this was so that Cowal could fulfill it's "world Championship designation and not just SOBHD designation" what has changed that Cowal not only became members are now voting members? The make up of the Board certainly hasn't changed and is in fact even more restrictive. So what happened to get Cowal "on Board" what perks were offered or denied....

The article continues " Under such circumstances no promoters of Highland Gatherings would be foolish enough to throw in their lot with one organization at the expense of the other In January 1968 the Board decided by 11 votes to 5 out of membership of approximately 37 and against the advice of Brigadier McLean the Chairman and other level headed members to boycott Cowal unless they obeyed all the rules laid down by the Board. "Some of the Board rules to say the least are ridiculous for instance "only Board Judges can be used in any championship…

Question to Cowal: since the same ridiculous rules are in place why did Cowal Cave?

The article goes on however like Mr. Wesley,and Whitelaw, Cowal also walked the walk and talked the talked and now spends time justifying their behaviors…. Maybe Scottish culture at least where Highland Dancing is concerned should not reflect, "crossed swords" but "forked tongues"!

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

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