Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

NOTE:SINCE THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN JUNE THERE HAVE BEEN MANY LETTERS RECEIVED BOTH BY THE SOHDA AND THIS WRITER INCLUDING MEMBERS OF SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT , ARTS COUNCIL ETC. Board members of the STDT include Billy Forsyth SOBHD and Gareth Mitchelson SOBHD. SOBHD is according to the Inland Revenue Service a "private organisation". Dreyer Larsen is a paid employee of the STDT. STDT is a "charitable" trust receiving public monies through sponsorship by such organisations such as the Scottish Arts Council. The SOHDA have met with the STDT and have offered a compromise to the situation and a combined competition with the SOBHD. As of August 6th 2004 SOHDA have not had an answer to their compromise. ..

"Am I speaking in a Vacuum?" by Loraine Ritchey

Every night for months I would wait in the wings watching and listening to the cast of characters spinning the plot of the play "To Gillian on her 37th Birthday". I played Gillian, the dead wife of the lead character "David Lewis". I would wait for my cue each night to involve myself in the action and yet being a ghost unable to be heard or seen by the majority of characters, no matter how creative, my impact only fell on the one who was "open" to the presence.

"Am I speaking in a vacuum"

the line delivered to the sea winds and gulls spelled out Lewis' frustration with his lot and being unable to make himself heard to those around him. The only person "listening " was a ghost who was unable to reach out and make the difference in his situation.

The cast of characters involved in the dances of Scotland reminds me of that play. The audience soon gets bored if the only production they can see night after night and the only line they heard was a lone figure crying in the wind "Am I speaking in a vacuum". That is precisely what is happening to the situation between the largest organization Scottish Official Board Of Highland Dancing (our lead in this production) and the older less affluent Scottish Highland Dancing Association (the lone figure standing on the beach speaking to the air). The audience (the highland dancing world and those that pay the fees) watch as the main character (SOBHD) slowly and methodically upstages the SOHDA. They have seen this part too many times to bother anymore, so they leave during the production to get their fill of "canned refreshments", provided by the lead character, whilst lines delivered by the SOHDA fall on a almost empty house. The audience doesn't care, the house managers don't care, those that own the building don't care, and those that pay for the production don't care anymore either. After all they justify the situation, even if we no longer have the other characters in a play, leaving only our lead (SOBHD) on the stage, even if it does end up becoming a "monologue" we will still be able to attend the theatre.

SOBHD has, in this ghosts opinion, homogenized the dances of Scotland with their ridged competitive structure. The Cowal "World" Highland Championship are totally SOBHD, I am sure you are skipping this part already, time for a quick drink at the bar, so I will cut the dialogue for those in the audience that would rather concentrate on the costuming

SOBHD has now reached out to "choreography" and are running those competitions under their (SOBHD) rules. You know about choreography, it is the where creativity in dance comes center stage. Well our lead has decided time for "me"(SOBHD) to control that part of the production too.

Still unwilling to quit the stage, unwilling to compromise the quality of the play our aging actor (SOHDA) shouts his lines to the half empty house, The manager -Stirling City Council, who own the building, the Angels- (Scottish Arts Council) who fork over the funds to the producer -Scottish Traditions of Dance Trust who pay for the house lights and the publicity, so that our main character-SOBHD can have more time on the stage. After all HE (SOBHD) is the one bringing in the audience, even if he isn't "equity" or recognized by any professional organization worldwide. But the SOBHD can promise participation; more audience: and have more spin and rhetoric in their bio, than the less affluent SOHDA, even though the dancers and parents of the SOHDA pay the ticket price (read tax payers in Scotland)they are kept from the stage.

The members of the press, well a drink in the bar and a well thought out line of spin doctoring will usually get you the publicity you require( read local Stirling news). "It is only dance; it isn't like it is really important." The international audience tends to agree however, there is waiting in the wings is one who knows the end of the play. Unless the SOHDA can make themselves heard the dances of Scotland will only be those that are "qualified by the SOBHD" no longer will the lesser know dances of Highland be danced, no longer will creativity in Choreography be totally free, it too will be controlled by those who belong to, teach and adjudicate such events under the "direction of the SOBHD".

Our aging actor SOHDA leaves the stage, writes, calls and tries to articulate the situation to those involved in the production, but his cries fall on deaf ears. The producer, Scottish Traditions of Dance Trust, state "The STDT was approached by a member of the SOBHD who requested that as part of the Dance Festival the member could organize a Highland Choreography competition on Sunday March 14th" (Robson STDT)
The ghost in the wings dialogue:
" Don't you see this " innocent" agreement means STDT supporting a competition that closes out other children of the dance, you are including an exclusionary competition and the ripple effect you have started by this action will eventually have an impact on your play"
Still our character the SOHDA does not give up, the money men are next, Scottish Arts Council, after all his taxes are going to support both originations STDT and SAC indirectly. Once again his cries fall on deaf ears and go unheard " SOBHD is financing and organizing the competition completely with the publicity for the competition being included within the dance festival program." (Boyle SAC)

The ghost in the wings would like to point out publicity is one of the most important aspects of a show and in this case the cost of that publicity is being picked up by the STDT whose operating budget comes from organization such as the Scottish Arts Council which receives public funding; public funding to publicize an event that is NOT open to all children.
The owner of the theatre in this case Stirling Council, "Stirling Council is not involved in the organization of the competition to which you refer"(Sutherland Stirling Council). "Not involved"? Public monies, (" in kind counts" in any accountants books) are being spent in providing a venue that is enabling a closed competition; I think the dialogue needs some work.

The children of the dance will continue to be controlled as to whom they can dance with, and like a world championship, only open to Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing (pay as you go) participants of dance, the marquee will read " Tonight and every night SOBHD Dances of Scotland, the only show in town!" and it seems the SOHDA have indeed been "Speaking in a Vacuum"

Editors note (SOBHD rules require that a dancer no matter how young or old cannot belong to any other dancing organization therefore SOHDA dancers cannot join the SOBHD unless they give up any other affiliation) Imagine the quandary of a child whose mother is a dance teacher of the SOHDA (see Scottish Billy Elliot) cannot take lessons from his own mother if he wants to dance for Scotland. In what has become Cowal's restricted World Championships, which only allows dancers of the SOBHD and their adjudicators and therefore restricts other Scottish dancers from competing). The situation in Scotland is a bit like saying you can dance only ballet and not tap make a choice you can do either or, you can play golf but only at our clubhouse and with our players and for this situation the tax payers are paying equally including those of the SOHDA.!

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

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