William Sutherland

William Sutherland dominated Highland dancing in Scotland from 1901 to 1923. His record includes wins at Braemar and Aboyne, the Northern Meetings, for 18 consecutive years. He taught James L. McKenzie, who assumed his mantle, and who set up a line of quality Highland dancers in Canada. Colleen Rintamaki, undefeated World Champion Highland Dancer and winner of that title ten times at the Cowal Highland Gathering, is one example of Canadian quality. The current 2006 World Champion, Erin Rose, is also from Canada though the two dancers are not direct dancing descendents of McKenzie.

Mr Sutherland emigrated to New Zealand in 1923. This memoir of him treats his dancing record and his technique in the

  • Highland Fling
  • Sword Dance
  • Sean Truibhas
  • Highland Reel
  • Reel of Tulloch

He steadfastly opposed the New Zealand Academy of Highland and National Dancing, started by Ian D. Cameron, and his ostracism by that body has influenced the Academy’s dealings with the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing for nearly 60 years. The ostracism is the root cause of the ban on New Zealand dancers that has been in place in Scotland for over 30 years.

The memoir

  • reviews the places of May Thorne Wilson and Frances Cameron in establishing the Academy style, reporting the interaction between them
  • refutes Percy Geddes’ claim that the current New Zealand style of Highland dancing evolved uniquely from a special group of dancers who emigrated from Scotland
  • examines the role of certain pipers and of the New Zealand Piping and Dancing Association in contributing to New Zealand's being a pariah among Highland dancing nations

The memoir has generated international and local interest. It has forced the Academy to revise its version of its history on its March 2015 website. This latest version of Academy history is also inaccurate and incorrect. These matters are examined in the present edition of the memoir. History is important to the Academy because it invents it to justify and authenticate itself to its internationally isolated dancers.

Above: William Sutherland, Thurso and Aberdeen.
This photograph of Mr Sutherland dancing Seann Truibhas in the trews was taken at Dannevirke in 1926 by Ronald Currie of Days Bay who gave it to my family. I still have the original of the greatest photo of a Highland dancer. As drafts of this memoir have circulated the copies of the photo have multiplied. (Ron Currie, brother of pipers Jack and Wal Currie, could play a tune)