Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

Note the following appears in the Aug 03 and Sept 03 issue of Dancer . Dancer's articles have limited space so not all the interview has been run in Dancer. Coupled with that fact is that Dancer is a broad based "USA dance magazine" of which Highland is a very small part. Therefore, although Highland specialised readers may find the information as to set up of organisations etc. old news to them, please bear in mind the readers of Dancer are not so informed as to Highland in and outs. The article is actually in three parts (parts one and two are below) Some will see that the information has already appeared in print in other articles both in Celtic World and Dancer in various forms eg. The Good the Bad the Ugly pt 1 and 2 (CW) and Dancers Body 1,2, 3 Dancer . However, the orignal interview was also run in CELTIC WORLD (UK) April 03 and I will put up the whole interview and explanations on another article page. Thank You Loraine Ritchey

Past articles for Dancer have included references to the organizations that govern the rules for the competitive Highland dance circuit.There has been a great deal of confusion, even within the Highland dancing world as to who oversees what and what us expected of the international Highland dancer.
Why is there a need for organizations?The history of today's remaining dancing organizations seems to be intertwined.The esteemed I.D Cameron Post WW2 finds Mr. I.D. Cameron M.B.E, OBE, MBE, C St.J, (President of the Piping and Dancing Assoc. (founded 1908) New Zealand 1941-1950) who was the driving force behind New Zealand Academy (1946) writes in his notes on his travels to Scotland in the late 1940"s of his involvement with the inauguration of today's largest governing body the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing:"The first meeting was held in the hotel which following the difficulties after judging Balmoral that Day (1949). Mr. Cuthbertson who was a judge had to be let out of the Secretaries tent from underneath the back of the tent.It was he who asked me to meet a small group to help them try and build an organization as we had in that time in New Zealand."

The need it seems for some organization in the dancing world came about because of the need for some structure in the Highland world of dance. In the last century and earlier the prizes that could be earned by the dancer of yesteryear could amount to a workingman's wages for a week or even a month in some places around the globe.The tales of judges bringing in their personal preferences to style depending on where you were in the country or the world, mothers chasing adjudicators across the fields with their umbrellas, judges without technical training or who had never danced, competitors who sometimes refused to dance before the appointed judges and those who decided amongst themselves who should receive the prizes.It seems though that there is still disagreement but now among the organizations rather than the judges and dancers.

The Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing (SOBHD) the largest of the "governing bodies" based in Scotland.They oversee all of the United States, Canada most of Australia, South Africa and the largest organization in Scotland.The SOBHD unlike the rest of the world's dancing organization restricts it's members, registered dancers, and adjudicators from belong to or dancing in another's competitions.This has caused a lot of confusion and dissent in recent years.Dancers as young as 8 have been banned, trophies given back by 10 year olds because mum entered them in the wrong competition.The United States and Canada are governed totally by the SOBHD so dancers and mums are assured that all competitions are run under SOBHD rules unless of course they travel to Scotland and elsewhere where other organizations have competitions run by other organizations.It is hoped that ongoing talks with the worlds other organizations will succeed in opening the dancing to all without fear of penalty.

Recently the Chairman of the SOBHD, Shendl Russell agreed to an interview and we will start what I hope to be a series of articles with the various Chairman and Presidents of the Highland Dancing Organizations World wide.

Ms. Russell disagrees with Mr. Cameron's recollections of how the SOBHD came into being: " It should be remembered that the SOBHD was formed in 1950 through a wish by the major Highland Dance Examining Bodies (the earliest formed in 1896), plus other teachers and leading dancers in the UK at that time, to have a Supervisory Board, comprising delegates from the many different organizations involved in Highland Dance, which could lay down quality standards for all areas of Highland Dancing, technique, movements, steps, championships and administration.

The main function of the SOBHD has always been to bring about co-operation between recognized associations (Dancers note the SOBHD does not recognize any of the other Highland dancing organizations outside those that are members of their structure) organizations, individuals and dancers connected with Highland Dancing and it has done this very successfully. It is the organization in the Highland Dance world, which the majority of people turn to for advice and information, represents the vast majority of those involved in Highland Dancing around the world, and is accepted by them as the World Governing Body.

I have been involved in dancing in various forms since the age of 4.I consider myself fortunate in having had Highland lessons from 3 of the greats -Willie Cuthbertson, May Falconer, Elspeth Strathern.(Russell) started teaching at 16, an adjudicator at 21 and an examiner at 23.I am a member of the BATD, SDTA and UKA. For many years I represented South Africa on the SOBHD, then teachers and judges from California and latterly Australia, SOBHD Chairman 1996.As a school principal of 18 years, it seemed logical to go into the administration/organization side of dancing and put something back into the organization which has supported me as a dancer/teacher/adjudicator.

Part two:

Continuing the conversation with Shendl Russell, Chairman of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing:

Dancer: What dancers of yester- year in your opinion were among the greats?

Russell: "From over the past 30 or so years :Gregor Bowman, Laura Carruthers, Michelle Cumagan, Loma Henry, Sandra Kennedy, Christine Lacey, Jennifer Lindsay, Irene Mackechnie, Ann Milne, Deryck and Gareth Mitchelson, Celia Orr, Fiona Perry, Ailsa Simpson. However to this list I must add - all highland dancers who have left us have left their mark in some sort of fashion as they passed along this great tradition, to many of todays dancers, teachers and adjudicators around the world.

Note : there was not a typo or ommission from this statement on the part of the writer or publication current SOBHD World Champion holder and multiple winner of Cowal Colleen Rintamaki was not mentioned.

Dancer: As Chairman of the SOBHD what is your vision for the future, what direction would you like to see the SOBHD take?

Russell: "Take Highland Dancing into the future using the technology of today while keeping the long held traditions alive. We should retain as many of the old regional variations of dances/steps, not necessarily for competing purposes but for a complete history of Highland Dancing which could be produced by the SOBHD with everything in it including steps/dances/dance masters/administrators etc.An Online library of this information could be posted on the SOBHD website.The primary role of the Chairman is to facilitate the meetings ensuring all points of view are considered before reaching a democratic decision."

Dancer: Do you think the various organizations "outwith the SOBHD" such as the VSU, SOHDA and Academy have a place under the "World Governing Body" aspect of the SOBHD and what ideas if any have you in trying to implement that happening.Do you feel there are "fences to be mended" and what as an office bearer do you see needing to be done to get everyone at the same table considering the diversity of the organizations?

Russell: "Yes, the door is always open and swings both ways.There must be a reason that the majority of Highland dancers around the world are dancing SOBHD.No one is holding a gun to our heads.Acceptance of any other organization is always welcome but within the SOBHD rules and regulations.We must always maintain the historical integrity of the past 50 plus years. Many people in the past sacrificed a lot to get us to this point in our history of Highland Dancing - I would consider this a part of my role as Chairman to ensure the past work was not done in vain."

Dancer's note: The New Zealand Academy of Highland and National Dancing is an examination body that trains and qualifies highland dancers, teachers and judges. The Academy fosters and maintains the Highland and National dances brought to New Zealand by the Scottish Settlers.The majority of Highland Dancers in New Zealand cannot dance at the Cowal World Championships (SOBHD) unless they give up their right for membership in their native organization.Part of their "Position Statement is as follows from their website http://www.nzahnd.org.nz.

"During their visit to New Zealand the Chairperson and Secretary of the Board were quite clear that should the Academy wish to include their work in its Syllabus, this could only be done in accordance with the terms of the Board rules.They specifically stated that Academy technique would be restricted to concerts with only the Board technique danced in competition.In other words TOTAL COMPLIANCE! While the Board have an exemption in place for New Zealanders until August 2004 there is no indication of any intention for that exemption to be extended.Likewise the apparent failure of the Board at its recent AGM to pass any of the resolutions put forward to free up Board (SOBHD) rules, does not augur well for a change in the Board position in the near future. It is our clear perception that it is the Board who needs to address problem areas and not other organizations. Specifically: The unacceptable restrictive practices enshrined in the Board constitution.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.The prevention of those registered with the Board from becoming members of organizations outside its control. The self appointed use of the slogan "world-wide governing body". We believe that it is necessary for the Board to make changes within their own organization, before any successful negotiated position can be achieved."

The Highland Dancing organizations around the world are waiting for the SOBHD to lift restrictions which state basically that if you wish to dance in any SOBHD run competition, not only do you have to be a member of the SOBHD dancing fraternity but you are "not allowed" to belong to any other organization.This is the sticking point in the negotiations with other dancing bodies, the total restriction of dancers to make a choice or to belong to more than one group. Recent talks with one other dancing body, situated in Scotland The Scottish Official Highland Dancing Assoc. have also broken down over the same sticking points mention in the Academy's "Position Statement".To be continued….

Questions Comments Loraine Ritchey, 1127 West 4th Street, Lorain, Ohio 44052. Tel 440-246-6046 E-mail lritch7@yahoo.com

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

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