Enjoying a new traditional experience
The Highland Dance Competition was a lively new Forest Festival event held Sept. 30 in the amphitheater at Davis & Elkins College. Katy Dillon, a talented local dancer who received certification from the British Association of Teachers of Dance, organized this competition. The event brings new energy to the MSFF celebration of traditions that shaped Appalachian culture.
Highland dancers came from many parts of West Virginia as well as Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. They competed within various levels of experience. Little primary dancers did the Pas de Basque, Highland Fling, and Sword Dance with tiny kilts flipping in wind. Beginners added the Seann Triubhas, and Scottish Lilt, and Intermediate level added the Highland Laddie and Sailor’s Hornpipe.
The dancing was artistic, athletic and authentic. The mindful precision and graceful confidence increased with each higher level, but the joy of being active was alive in every dancer. A judge sat at the front of the stage watching to see if mistakes were made. The younger contestants danced from 10 a.m. until noon when medals and scholarships were awarded.
After lunch the more experienced dancers began their competition.
We all remember the sound of the WV Highlanders playing bagpipes in their yellow and black plaids in the Forest Festival Parade. When they represented the local American Legion in 1947 Cyrus Kump was one of the early members of the Highlanders. Now Bruce Dillon, Katy’s father, is a Highlander who sustains the bagpiping tradition in Elkins reminding us that our ancestors were proud of their ancient customs of music and dance.
Many of the traditional skills exhibited in Forest Festival athletic events have declined over the years. For instance, he Knights of the South Branch Valley have stopped riding the course to spear rings that hung down from arches sets at intervals along their path. By 2014 the knights were no longer able to train horses and young riders for the tournament that took place on the D&E lower lawn.
Farming, homemaking and timbering have changed since the 1930s when the Forest Festival began. Even the Wood Chopping Contest has become more automated, and most of the quilters use sewing machines in some part of their production process.
However, the sprightliness of young people in plaid kilts dancing up and down animated by bagpipe music makes our hearts leap with joy. It is not just a celebration of an ancient tradition; it is an affirmation that the human spirit enlivens the 21st century.