Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey


A commentary by Loraine Ritchey

Gillian Whitelaw with dancers of the SOHDA/now SOBHD

One has to wonder what lay beneath the surface of the latest "Flingers Fiasco" also known as the "1st Highland Dance Championship for Celtic Connections."

Whitelaw for years a staunch supporter of the SOHDA and one of their most active teachers has within a matter of days rather than weeks has made an exit reminiscent of any diva. Whitelaw who had sang the praises of the SOHDA to this writer on more than one occasion now insists, " they are a nothing but a flea on the ear of the SOBHD", stupid, lacking vision and third rate!

Why the about face? November of 2002 Whitelaw had enough faith in their abilities to not only want to run a "championship" under SOHDA rules but indeed wanted a WORLD Championship to fly in the face of Cowal Highland Games ( the current holder of a SOBHD World Championship)

Whitelaw writes: "It was decided there was no point, any longer in negative complaining about SOHDA dancers, not being permitted to dance, specifically at Cowal, the world championships. The decision was to become pro-active, to create as soon as feasible, an SOHDA world championship, thereafter and thereby relegating the championship at Cowal to an SOBHD world championship only. The board could no longer have claimed exclusive world championship.

To achieve this it was necessary to attach the competition to something bigger than Cowal games. Amazingly, and with almost all of the input coming from myself, I managed to persuade Celtic connections to take the SOHDA on board, and allow us to attach a competition to this massive and prestigious festival. Cowal Highland gathering is a dwarf in comparison to Celtic Connections.This was finally agreed over a few drinks at Lorient folk festival in Brittany last year, attended by the leaders of Celtic connections during their annual reconnaissance for acts."

Whitelaw goes on to say "When it was agreed with the SOHDA that the competition would indeed go ahead, we knew, we knew beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the SOBHD would not support the competition. I wished it to be an SOHDA world championship from the outset, as did Celtic connections, but we were persuaded otherwise by Alex McGuire".

Alex McGuire states: The CC Championship was first brought to the attention of the SOHDA at a meeting in Kincardine, Sunday Nov 3rd. (2002)". There were misgivings due to the fact that the lead in time as far as SOHDA was concerned was too short. McGuire also thought that to call the 1st CC competition a World Championship was over ambitious on Whitelaw's part. " I felt there was not enough lead time to promote and put together such a prestigious event as a World championship. Also the SOHDA and SOBHD have been in the process of "talks". The talks and opening up the dancing had the backing of Cowal therefore we did not want to jeopardize the positive movement we had been seeing of late"

Still Whitelaw continued with the " a championship". Timing of the entry forms going out to members seemed problematic McGuire tells Celtic World " After much prompting from me (to Whitelaw) and as a result of phone calls I was receiving the entry forms were finally published just at the time when most of the dance schools were closing down for the Christmas and New Year break!"

The largest of all the dance organizations SOBHD had the opportunity in November to do away with its "rules restrictions" to no longer penalize dancers from dancing in non-recognized competitions. Some have claimed the Celtic Connection competition played a part in that failure so the competition would not gain numbers. Parents were waiting to see if their dancers would have been allowed to compete at the Festival. At that time an article "SOBHD unplugs from Celtic Connections" was in the hopper!

The restrictive practices that Whitleaw found "wrong" in years gone by and the very organization that she wanted to "fly in the face of" now has her on board. A February 9th official resignation from the SOHDA found Whitelaw a week later in Aberdeen passing her UKA teacher's exam (with lessons via Anna Bain) and her dancers registered with the SOBHD.

SOBHD aficionados have for years called the dancers teachers and judges of the SOHDA "mediocre, unable to judge, poor excuses for dancers and teachers. The SOBHD's rulebook calls their championships " so called". In fact Cowal's Ronnie Cairns calls the dancers of the SOBHD the "elite" (Celtic World 2001) which by inference isn't very complimentary to those dancers of the SOHDA. However, it seems that SOHDA teachers have no problems in crossing over and taking the UKA exams for teaching with ease.

Whitelaw writes: "Had the competition gone ahead as "I" wished, we would of course not have expected any board support, BUT WE NEVER DID, IN ANY CASE, OR AT ANY TIME, anticipate support from the board. (SOBHD)"

Since SOBHD support was not expected the surprise at the turnout 86 dancers registered should not have been the "apparent" surprise it was to Whitelaw. The fact that it was a championship, and dances chosen (Whitelaw) helped to trim the turn out even more.

The meeting on Nov 3rd with the SOHDA had Whitelaw informing the SOHDA that 100 entries would be acceptable to Celtic Connections However Colin Hynd, Celtic Connections, felt the number was 200.

In the entire "dancing debacle" dancers are once again left literally standing at the doors, only to find them once again closed. Sponsors who have supported the competition, in some cases to the tune of hundreds of pounds are stuck with trophies engraved specifically for the competition.

Colin Hynd stated: " with regard to out of pocket expenses for participants we would be happy to look at each case individually…. We are obviously very sorry for any inconvenience that the cancellation caused to anybody"

Whitelaw, now a part of the SOBHD organization, would not be allowed to run any competition outwith SOBHD regulations and doesn't intend to do so if asked by the folks at Celtic Connections " I hope that they request my input and if so I will not, as you may well imagine be approaching the SOHDA"

Celtic Connections for their part state " with regard to any future event, Celtic Connection would not be in a position to "host" a competition that barred or restricted entry of anybody that wanted to participate"

So whether it was the lack of numbers (note: 86 for a championship is reasonable I have covered Championships with a lot less. NZ Scotdanz and the SOBHD touted their 1st competition a rousing success with less than 40 dancers competing) the venue being too grand and expensive for the 1st competition, poor timing of entries, not enough lead in time, highland politics or the apparent disappointment by Whitelaw of not having her own "World Championship", dancers/ parents and the audience again pay the price for the "decisions made by the few that effect the many!"

Whitelaw's students will not have their "so called" titles won at "so called " championships recognized. Parents who paid through the years to travel to the competitions run by, as Whitelaw now claims,a "3rd rate organization's (SOHDA), the hours practicing and paying her to teach for the " flea on the ear of the SOBHD" have thrown away the time and money.

They will support Whitelaw and it seems they are excited at their new status. If it is as easy for the teacher to gain certification it may be that the "non elite" will also be able to cross over with as much ease. And maybe they will get what it seems Whitelaw really wants that coveted "Worlds"!

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

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