Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

The following article appears in May's Celtic World written by Bruce Campbell and appears here with his permission. You may contact Celtic World , now published in Scotland celtic_world@hotmail.com


Photo, VICTOR WESLEY courtesy of Celtic World and appears with their permission

Glasgow born Victor Wesley won three Highland Dance World Championships but now the man whom Queen Elizabeth styled THE LORD OF THE DANCE finds himself tied up by what he sees as petty beaurocrats, who have, in effect stopped him from teaching - despite the fact that he has tutored an amazing 29 World title holders. Now he is fighting back and is set to take the self-styled 'World Governing body' to court in a landmark case.

By Bruce Campbell

VICTOR Wesley is a champion in every sense of the word; a person who has fought adversity from his humble beginnings to scale the heights in his chosen career of Highland Dance before venturing into the cut throat world of professional Ballet where he found fame and fortune-but never lost his love of Highland. Like everything about this charismatic Glaswegian who now calls Delaware USA home, his three World Championship victories have the touch of stage magic about them also.

"I won all three under different systems," he says. "I won my first at Cowal in 1968 when it was an independent judging list and the event was open to all comers, then I won in 1969 when Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing judges refused to adjudicate and then I came back in 1972 after SOBHD had installed their board-only rules-and I still won. "I proved that I could dance whatever the rules were and still be the best."

A career in professional Ballet found Wesley part of the famous Scottish Ballet Company which toured the world and also saw the once shy lad from Springburn on stage with the likes of Dame Margot Fontayn. He also danced by Royal Command for Queen Elizabeth and in recent years when Glasgow was named European Capital of Culture, Her Majesty honoured him with the style, >"Lord of the Dance'.

A string of professional qualifications mean that he has always been in demand as a teacher, choreographer and dancer. Except, that is, in his native Scotland-or even in his adopted American home. "Under the rules of the SOBHD I'm not allowed to teach competitive Highland dancers," he says. "Their rules say that if you aren't a member of their organisation then your students can't compete at their events."

Currently SOBHD rules apply to more than half of the contests in Scotland, most of them in England, as well as some events in Australia, and all events in South Africa, Canada and the United States where SOBHD affiliates operate a monopoly.

There are other organisations such as the Scottish-based SOHDA as well as New Zealand Piping & Dancing Association, the Victorian Scottish Union and another Australian organisation called the National Dancers Association. All up, the 'Academy style' associations represent about 30% of world dancers. But they don't hold sway at Cowal Highland Gathering, home since 1948 of the adult World Highland Dancing Championships.

Up until 1969 Cowal had featured a mixed bench of judges representative of varying dancing organisations. That year SOBHD insisted that Cowal have only an SOBHD bench and when the gathering refused they attempted to boycott the contest and instead promoted their own version at Gourock, ironically at the other end of the ferry route from Dunoon, home of Cowal Highland Gathering. But in 1970 SOBHD was back at Cowal and since then the judge's bench has featured only their judges.

"The 1969 competition was a bit sad," recalls Wesley. "There were dancers who should have been there but who followed the boycott although a lot defied the SOBHD and danced anyway. "I had already won in 1968 so I didn't feel that my second title was in anyway slighted-I would have won no matter what. "When I was young I was very arrogant but I knew that I was the best so it wouldn't have mattered anyway "I played by their rules in 1972 when I made my comeback and won again, so that proved it."

In fact Wesley didn't compete in a Highland competition between 1969 and 1972 and that made his comeback victory even more remarkable. In winning three championships he joined an elite band of only two others at that time who had done so; the immortal JL MacKenzie and Sheena McDonald. Since then Christine Lacey, brothers Gareth and Deryck Mitchelson, Gregor Bowman and Colleen Rintamaki, the current holder, have done the hat-tick with Gareth Mitchelson (4 wins) and Gregor Bowman (5 wins) going steps further.

After his 1972 win, Victor Wesley called it a day and turned more to teaching and Ballet. "I had by then built up a large list of pupils," he said. "When I won at Cowal in 1969 I can remember looking down the line of prize getters in the adult, junior and juvenile sections and seeing four or five of my pupils on the platform also. That is one of the real things that winning the World Championship meant, I was in demand as a teacher. "By then I was teaching all over Scotland as well. "In all I have taught or polished 29 dancers who have won prizes at the Worlds-even although a lot of the teaching was 'unofficial'.

"But I am now ostracized. "I won't join SOBHD now because I consider that they have acted corruptly and fraudulently and I won't support an organisation which operates illegally. "I have been asked once or twice quietly to 'join the club' but I always ask: "What club?" "I have achieved what I have in the dance world because of my ability, nothing else. "They have dance judges today who are just impostors but they are all members of the same 'club'. "I don't want to be a part of that. "It is corrupt."

Wesley was in Scotland recently to meet with his Glasgow-based lawyer who intends to serve papers on the SOBHD shortly for its discriminatory action against him. It would be easy to think that Wesley is bitter about SOBHD's policy, particularly given the knowledge that this year marks his fifth straight invitation to judge at Royal Braemar which has an open bench, but that is far from the case.

"I just want to teach, I'm not bitter at all," he says. And then with a play on words, and a twinkle in his eye, he adds: "I don't want to be a 'bored' judge, I want to judge properly. "It isn't my intention to hurt a lot of people in this legal action but there are people in SOBHD who are hiding the truth from the dance world. "They have taken away my career-I just want it back."

NOTE: In the interests of balanced reporting both SOBHD president Billy Forsyth and FUSTA president Bill Weaver have been invited to represent their associations on this issue. At the time of going to press our request to Mr Forsyth has been acknowledged and we intend to publish a follow-on article at the earliest opportunity.

starting next month in Celtic World VICTOR WESLEY: LORD OF DANCE telling his own story, in an exclusive series on one of the true legends of modern Highland Dancing

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

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