Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

“ A Title By Another Name Does it Feel as Sweet?” by Loraine Ritchey

Another Cowal Highland Gathering has come and gone, the awards the titles and adjudicating have gone down in the history books. The complaints about judging and objectivity, both before and after the competition, are mere echoes fading into the swirling Highland mists that are the politics of the Highland world. Highland Dancers (SOBHD) look to the next championship the “new” set steps for 2005. “Will I be this years champion, will I be the one standing on the podium?” Since “titles” are about the only compensation that a dancer of Highland receives, no matter the organization, they seemingly become the “ultimate goal”.

Adjudicators and teachers fill their bios with their titles, very rarely do we see the qualifications as to knowledge of the body, teaching qualifications other than those (SOBHD) as examined by the examining bodies of the SOBHD BATD, SDTA, and UKA. Presumably this will appeal to the parent of a prospective dancer or to the organizer of a “workshop”. It seems “Highland titles” have become qualifying tools for employment. For instance the recent announcement of a workshop in New Zealand given by an American judge and teacher of 1997 Cowal Champion SOBHD Juvenile World, Michelle Cumagun is paramount in the publicity being sent out announcing her teaching qualification teaching of the NZ workshop- “Tutor – Mrs. Diane Krugh – USA Diane is a fellow/examiner for BATD, an adjudicator on the worldwide Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing adjudicator’s panel having adjudicated throughout the world, A teacher of World, Scottish, Commonwealth, American champions and a very experienced workshop tutor (note for further information on this workshop contact Judy Clark, Scotdanz)

Or the website of Gillian Whitelaw who advertises her studio and credentials “The Gillian Whitelaw School of Highland Dancing is based in central Scotland and comprises of classes in Grangemouth, Larbert, Denny and Stirling. The principal teacher is Gillian Whitelaw, 3 times Scottish Champion in 1980,1982, and 1983. Gillians teaching career spans over 20 years, and over this period of time the dance school has produced many champions and dancers who have become teachers in their own right”.

Ms Whitelaw's, who also recently joined the ranks of the SOBHD and whose titles were won over the previous 20 years before 2002 under the SOHDA organization; although her students titles and her titles are not recognized by the SOBHD organization she still apparently feels they are worthy enough to be part of her resume (CV). Look at any of the dancing websites or advertisements and titles are first a foremost, whether being won or having a winning student.

Therefore, it would follow that having a “World Champion” title on your resume would be “no bad thing”. However thanks to Highland politics we have two individuals claiming that honor for the year of 1969. Victor Wesley, who danced at Cowal Highland Gathering that year the traditional home of the World Championship and is listed in their history as the winner and Canadian, Angus Mackenzie who danced for the SOBHD Gourock World Championship title that year and is recognized by the SOBHD as such. Does it matter who has the claim to fame? Probably not in any other sport or art form as the ultimate goal is the going on to a professional career or sponsorship but in the Highland world those titles are extremely important. The title and following “first to win” etc. can get you those employment opportunities.

Cameron Collins, one of the finalists in this years SOBHD World Championship and a student of Angus Mackenzie sent an email to this writer in response to an article which appeared in Celtic World 2003 “Oh Canada” where this writer pointed out that it was the “Canadian females that had won Cowal and the Canadian male title was still up for grabs”. This fact that Cameron obviously disputed as per his e-mail to me “ Quote-"Is there a Canadian male on the horizon who will do what the lasses have done frequently in recent years "take home the silverware to Canada"! (Celtic World 2003)? Yes! There are a number of Canadian males who will attempt to repeat the great Mr. Angus Mackenzie's feat – (signed) The "Canadian" Lord of the Dance” Obviously Mr. Collins took issue that I had negated Mr. Mackenzie’s feat as the first Canadian to win a world title.

In response, an email from Mr. Mackenzie-

“Hi, Angus Mackenzie here, I really first of all want to thank Cameron, my student and awesome dancer and just the biggest supporter I have and how wonderful to have a dancer with the loyalty to me. I never knew winning a World Title like I did would cause such controversy some years later. I can only say that I kept my loyalty to the SOBHD in those days as I do today! I, in good faith respected their wishes and danced in Gourock and the following day I believe it was, I sat and watched at Cowal. I did not realize how it would feel some 30 years later to watch my boy perform at Cowal and what an opportunity I missed. I did however make or my parents made the decision along with my teacher to support the Board and although a lot of unfortunately sour notes later I still support my folk’s decision and I am proud to support the Board. I did compete a lot that summer in Scotland with great results, Silver Medal at Oban, Ballater trophy, Braemar etc. I did compete against Victor and we did beat each other, and I do have the newspaper clippings with all the results. I am taking the High Road and saying I was The World Champion, that year and I guess we can go on for years discussing it and I do not think their will be a resolution to fix it but I do not believe I falsely advertise at all. I will say Thank you to you for all your articles on this subject because it certainly keeps me up in the news:) Thank you, Respectfully Angus MacKenzie”. And “The only one personal note I would like to add is that if I do advertise I do make sure it says the 1969 World Adult Championship under the direction of the SOBHD etc. I honestly like to clarify that point and of course it is a shame that these things happen when although in the Competition world, we do want to keep our heritage and Music alive!” (AM)

The interview with Mr. Wesley on the subject in Highland Gathering magazine “H.G. There is obviously a bit of controversy over the 1969 World Championship. SOBHD boycotted Cowal and held their own Championship at Gourock. Looking back on that time do you have any regrets that the 69 title wasn't a unified one? Victor Wesley: - " No, the SOBHD, Championship was a "Confined Championship" it was not an "open to the world " Championship. I was the 1969 World Champion recognized by Cowal and any one organization cannot negate that fact.”

The question has to be asked since now Mr. Wesley has indeed become part of the “SOBHD club”(Celtic World The SOBHD Have Killed My Career by Bruce Campbell) ““I have been asked once or twice quietly to ‘join the club’ but I always ask: “What club?” Which dancer does the SOBHD recognize as the World Champion? Indeed, presumably the “world title “ confusion would also affect the juvenile and junior world titleholders of that year as well..

So the ripple effect of Highland politics from 35 years ago to the present day continues to affect the dancers, teachers, judges and columnists. The SOBHD organization, which refuses to recognize the titles and qualifications of dancers, teachers and adjudicators and Cowal highland Gathering with its own “history of the who won the worlds”. Will Cameron Collins or one of his male counterparts from Canada be the 1st or 2nd Canadian male dancer to win a world title and is it really a truly world title since 1994? The debate will continue, as the titles in Highland dancing seem to be the only pot of gold at the end of the tartan rainbow.


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

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