Scottish Official Board

Grave Miscalculation

The Scots were to try patiently for the next 20 years to persuade the Academy to mend its ways but Mr Sutherland was not to live to see the dénouement. The New Zealanders saw it as if it were a legal or commercial dispute, for they applied these methods of negotiation. They used the tactics of administrative delays, the quasi-legalistic comparisons of curricula and requests for clarification.

The strategists miscalculated, for the situation was not one that was resolvable through the application of legal and commercial techniques. This was because it was a matter of legitimacy which the Scots had and the New Zealanders did not. Had the Academy accepted Mr Sutherland as the dancing master it would have been authenticated in Scots' eyes and there would have been no imbroglio.

Our reservations were expressed earlier about the half a dozen or so teachers that May Thorne Wilson and Mrs McDougall-Cameron each had. These lists of teachers are promoted in the Academy's literature as a part of its foundations. The Scottish Official Board apparently does not hold those teachers in particularly high esteem, at least not sufficiently to overcome the Board's reservations about the Academy. One concludes, either that the teachers do not have standing with the Board or, if they do, that Academy dancing does not represent their technique.

For whatever reasons, perhaps just by watching them dance, the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing barred New Zealand dancers from competition in Scotland. Later on they were required to spend a probationary period of instruction in Scotland before they could compete there. This was a decisive condemnation of New Zealand Highland dancing, of the Academy system, of the Piping and Dancing Association and of the policy makers in both.

Thirty years of varying restrictions on New Zealand dancers competing in Scotland remain in place. The Academy had been obdurate towards the Scots over a considerably longer period.

Attempted Reconciliation

It took a piper as President to reassess the dancing situation. The President of the New Zealand Piping and Dancing Association, Frank McKinnon, made a plea for a more flexible attitude by the Academy towards the Scottish Official Board in editorials in Scotia Pacific in 2002/3 and in 2003/4. Scotia Pacific is the magazine of the Piping and Dancing Association.

He saw that the influence of the Board has extended to most other countries and that competitions in many of them are under the aegis of the Board. He said that about 100 New Zealand dancers were Scottish Official Board dancers in 2002/2003. Dancing organisations that are separate from the Academy have emerged here to support the Hundred Dancers. By 2014 the 100 dancers had grown. Scottish Official Board dancer Morgan Bamford alone had 90 pupils in NZ. Frank said that the Academy should allow the Scottish style in New Zealand competitions. He pointed out that the Piping and Dancing Association's rules allow separate styles and he implied that the Academy is intransigent.

Rules that allow different styles are beside the point and in any event put the Academy style on a par with that of the Scottish Official Board, an equivalence that is unlikely to appease the Scots. Competitions outside the Academy system and within the Board's ambit appear to be on the New Zealand horizon. New Zealand dancers are increasingly isolated from the world and they could eventually face apprenticeships elsewhere as well as in Scotland, it would seem.

President McKinnon's editorials in effect call for a shift from the tactics of business and law to the strategy of statesmanship and diplomacy that have been absent from the New Zealand position in the history of what the Academy has inaccurately seen as “negotiations” with the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing.

Adopting Frank’s suggestion to allow both styles would shore up the Piping and Dancing Association and the internationally isolated Academy. This would reduce the pressures on the Association and the Academy from those of their members who belong to a rival organisation. The weakness in the suggestion is its assumption that the Scottish Official Board would accept a dual system in New Zealand when the rest of the world is more or less uniform under its direction. Duality would put pressure on the Academy to convert to the Scottish Official Board system as it would introduce adjudication disputes in local competitions; it may be a tactic that the Board should consider.

Frank was a member also of the Executive Committee of the Academy, in possession of the facts and in a position to make an evaluation of the standoff with the Scottish Official Board. He took two years to think about his editorials. The Academy’s riposte to him is in an open letter to members that was still posted on its 2005 website.

Academy Obdurate

This letter denies that the Academy is in conflict with the Board. It states that the Board denies the rights of other organisations to promote other styles of Highland dancing, particularly New Zealand’s “special traditions that must be preserved”. The Academy claims that it has not stifled the Board’s technique; it has invited overseas tutors and overseas exhibition dancers to two workshops. The Academy cannot introduce Board techniques without the Board’s authorisation, as the Chair and Secretary of the Board made clear in a recent visit, the letter alleges. Were the Academy to adopt the Board style, it goes on, the Board would not allow the Academy style in New Zealand competitions. Effectively, the Academy claims in the letter that the Board would be administering Highland dancing within New Zealand through the Academy.

The Board’s shortcomings listed in the letter include its “restrictive practices” on judging, competition, membership of other organisations as well as its description as the “worldwide governing body”. These deficiencies, states the letter, must be addressed “before any successful negotiated settlement can be achieved”.

“It is also important that in any negotiations between New Zealand and the Board we MUST enter the negotiation from a position of strength and not as a supplicant or as a subservient organisation.” (Emphasis in original.)

The Board is alleged in the letter to be acting in ways potentially “contrary to present legislation in both countries”. The Academy must “ensure the very integrity of the art form it was established to protect” concludes the open letter on the website.

Artistic disputes can be religious in their intensity and the parties to this one are entrenched. The open letter is embattled and combative. Particularly, it is remarkable in the beginning for denying that the Academy is in conflict with the Board yet it goes on to show conclusively that it is engaged in conflict.

It is inconsistent of the Academy to complain of the Board’s intolerance of other styles when the Academy imposed a monolithic method of dance upon New Zealand. The letter persists in the Academy’s unsuccessful legalistic approach to the Board to the extent of an insinuation that the Board is breaking the law. The legalism continues with the assertion that the Academy cannot introduce Board technique without Board consent.

Relationships with the Board continue to be seen as a negotiation. The Academy adopts the negotiating ploy of attempting to shift the grounds to a territorial dispute over who is to control New Zealand Highland dancing. The Academy’s moral claim to that control is only as strong as the authenticity of its dancing method, which this memoir has shown to be false. The Board does not accept the Academy’s claim to governance because the Board will not accede to a synthetic form of dance.

The standing in Scotland of some of the overseas tutors that the Academy has invited to New Zealand is an open question. The history of the Academy over 60 years refutes the assertion in the open letter that the Academy has not stifled Board technique. That suffocation is what the fight has been about.

The surrealistic quality of the letter is illustrated by the pretence that the Academy will negotiate from a position of strength. New Zealand is a very small country and New Zealand dancers would not be missed internationally. The reality is that the Academy has no power over the Board and can inflict no damage on it. The open letter reveals the Academy to be unimaginative and tied to the unsuccessful legal and administrative framework of its past.

Tension in NZ

Unlike pipers, New Zealand dancers are in the contradictory situation of having to learn two dance styles if they are to compete abroad. This situation is raising increasing tensions in the Highland dancing fraternity here. The test for the Piping and Dancing Association will be when the Scottish Official Board applies for a permit to run a New Zealand meeting for its own dancers. The Association will have the Academy at its throat if it grants the permit and the Scottish Official Board on its tail if it does not. Doubtless the Association will rely on its administrative and legal approach. Those methods can impose an outcome but the resolution of the underlying problem does not lie in them.

There are examples of the apparently unfair treatment of New Zealand dancers in Scotland. New Zealanders who do not look past them feel aggrieved and see them as a shortcoming that reduces the standing of the Scottish Official Board in their eyes. A lesser standing of the Board does not, however, increase the status of the Academy, which would remain illegitimate were there no Scottish discrimination against New Zealand dancers.

The Board tried persuasion unsuccessfully for a long time before using the lever on the individual New Zealand dancer as a tool to redirect the New Zealand Academy. What is necessary if the “unfairness” is to be removed is for the Academy to accept its historic errors and to mend its ways. As this is unlikely, individual New Zealand dancers will continue to suffer in Scotland.

The disaffiliated Academy has stopped all contact with the Scottish Official Board of Highland dancing, according to the McKinnon editorials. The Academy has withdrawn into its New Zealand laager where it will remain in control for many years because only a small proportion of New Zealand dancers will ever want to compete abroad.

Albeit without recognising it, the Academy has the strategic advantage over the Piping and Dancing Association. The Association is redundant given the existence of the Pipe Bands Association, the Academy and Comunn na Piobaireachd and three piping trusts, The Gaelic Society Piping Trust in Dunedin, The Wm Boyle Memeorial Foundation in Christchruch and The Donald Bain Trust in Wellington. These organizations successfully promote piping in New Zealand.

Piping competitions are often held seperately from dancing competitions now. There is little need for the Piping and Dancing Association. The strength of the piping organizations mentioned is that they are controlled by pipers for pipers. The P&D Association has often had non-pipers and non-dancers in influential positions.

The source of the Piping and Dancing Association’s control is in the administration of the registration processes. The Academy, should it choose, could remove the Piping and Dancing Association from the balance by registering dancers, judges and meetings itself in a direct local confrontation with the Association and any New Zealand branch of the Scottish Official Board. The Pipe Bands Association could readily take on this role for pipers. There is no really useful function for the Piping and Dancing Association.

Senior members of the Academy are internationally beleaguered. The majority of dancers in New Zealand, knowing only the Academy’s method and its directed story, feel bewildered by the Scots who may not know the New Zealand story either. The New Zealanders think that they should be free to dance in Scotland as they wish in a manner that differs from the Scottish Official Board, when in New Zealand the situation is that all competitors must adhere to Academy methods.

All the Academy is able to do is occassionally send groups of its dancers overseas to give non-competitive exhibitions at fairs, festivals and the like. These occassions are used to promote falsehoods abroad, and to reinforce them here, that New Zealand is an outpost where a form of Highland dancing that putatively came from Scotland has been preserved and nutured by the Academy. The world is not grateful.

The Academy forced an artificial dancing style upon New Zealand around 1950 and the style then proceeded in an Academy oriented direction. The irony is that the Academy itself is now discomfited as its own tactics are applied against it from abroad. The minority of New Zealand adherents to the Scottish Official Board have no idea of the background to their dilemma which centres on Mr Sutherland and has been presented here.