Comings and Goings

As we are gearing up to start a new dance year in September, I reflect on the opportunities our dancers have had these last few years.  One of the most notable opportunities came from the Bach & Beethoven Ensemble as they invited us to perform with them last September in “The Gentle Shepherd”, a Scottish Opera composed by Allan Ramsey in 1725.  There was no documented record that this opera had been performed in its entirety in the US since 1792.   We had a blast!  We have really enjoyed the chance to partner with the BBE and just finished three additional engagements with them as part of their  “Gaelic Summer” shows.

We have walked many miles in the heat and the cold in parades; Naperville St. Patrick’s Day, Itasca Memorial Day, Brookfield 4th of July, Lyons 4th of July, Kishwaukee Fest, Colombus Day, and State Street Thanksgiving Day if you are keeping track!  We have danced at weddings of current and former THHD dancers, at school shows, church services, ethnic festivals, and retirement facilities.  We have danced for small groups and large audiences.  We have danced with fiddle orchestras, Celtic rock bands, world renown fiddlers, bagpipe bands, a concert band,  and individual dance pipers.  We have appeared on radio and television. We have performed nationally and internationally.  We have carried on the tradition of those that danced before us at long-standing annual events such as the Scottish Home Picnic, Feast of the Haggis, and Christmas Around the World.  We have sent dancers away to college, and while we miss them when they are gone, we welcome them back with open arms when they finish their studies.   We have completed medal tests and professional exams.  We have competed locally and nationally, and are always striving to accept both winning and losing graciously.  We have learned new movements,  new dances, and new choreographies that have tested our abilities.  We have purchased new costumes, outgrown class outfits, and worn out numerous pairs of gillies.  We have worked with a variety of teachers and instructors in weekly lessons or workshops.  We have learned to change costumes quickly, discreetly and in a minimum amount of space.  We have learned that posture is important and that standing for a photo with your feet in first or third position is highly recommended.  We have accomplished a great deal!




Hear and Their……

The new school/dance year brings excitement, opportunities, challenges as everyone returns to classes. There are many changes for our dancers this year as Annika, Fiona, Leanna, Louisa and Sara head off to college. Jenny, Estefani, and Melanie enter high school, Elliot, Kaia, Samantha Grace and Madeleine start kindergarten. Some are moving to middle school or junior high buildings, while others are just changing teachers for more classes in the same school. We send Arbie, Erin and Annie back to college after enjoying the summer with them! Former dancer Abby is getting married on September 7, and former dancer, now associate teacher, Jessi just had a baby girl. It was a wonderful surprise to have Molly drop in at class on her quick visit back to Chicago from Alberta, Canada on Wednesday evening. We welcome new friends into the THHD family and will miss those that have decided to take a break.

College Send Off!

College Send Off!

We have done a lot this past year and have a lot of opportunities already on the calendar for this upcoming year. The majority of engagements are OPEN to dancers of all levels. Please take advantage of the wide variety of parades, shows, competitions, performances, exhibitions, workshops, etc. that are available! The Thistle & Heather Highland Dancers do their best at promoting Scottish Highland Dancing whenever the opportunity arises! Not all engagements will be suitable for all dancers, but we encourage you to participate in as many as you can. Browse through the photos in the gallery to catch a glimpse of some of the enjoyable events of this past year!



Summer highlights include dancing for the opening of “Brigadoon” at the Goodman, as well as seeing “Brigadoon”, (with 125 dance related friends the first time and 35 dance related friends the second time) dancing with the McNulty Irish Dancers at Ballydoyle Downers Grove and again at Fox Valley Irish Fest in Aurora, performing live with “Skerryvore” at Martyrs in Chicago, and of course dancing at the Scottish Home Picnic.

Skerryvore adventure 1

“Skerryvore” Concert

And so it goes……



Margaret Baikie MacDonald Highland Dancers at Scottish Home Picnic 1966 (?)

With the Scottish Home Picnic coming up on Saturday, August 2nd, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on some history.  I danced at my first Scottish Home Picnic in the summer of 1963.  With a few exceptions, I have danced or had dancers perform at this event ever since!  Though it is hard to tell from this photo, I am third from the left in the back row, and judging by my height and my costume, this photo was probably taken about 1966 or so.   Funny thing is, I can name many of the dancers in this photo!   Many I am still in contact with today.   I have also had the privilege of teaching many of the children and grandchildren of my childhood dance friends throughout the years.

The Stock Yard Kilty Band is playing behind us as they did for many years.  During my high school and college years, this was my band when I played the bagpipes.  All these years later, we continue to march behind the SYKB every 4th of July at the Brookfield and Lyons Parades, and we perform each year at the SYKB Band Dance in November.

Back then, our kilts were traditional tartans, we wore hats and often sporrans, with lots and lots of frilly lace at our necks and at the end of our sleeves.  Most of us had solid color socks that were held up with flashes attached to bands of elastic around our legs and our hair was often down!   For many years, we wore plaids over our shoulders and attached around our waists as well as wearing our medals on our jackets which not only added to the weight of the jacket, but also created hazards to navigate as medals would often come off during a performance and land in the middle of the stage.

Picnic 2

THHD Dancers at Scottish Home Picnic 2002 (?)

I think this picture was taken in 2002 as many of the dancers in the front row just graduated from high school!  How time flies!  The best part  for me is that I have been able to participate in the lives of many young people over the years and have remained in contact with many of them as they have graduated from high school and college, gotten married and had children of their own.

Sally Wilhelm Johnston and Jennifer Russell Hatton both grew up dancing at the Picnic and their daughters, along with mine have also been participating and attending this event since they were wee bairns.  Rockford teacher, Rebekah Danaher danced at the Picnic for many years as did Plainfield teacher Jessi Oudin DePatie.


THHD Dancers at Scottish Home Picnic 2013

So even though in 2014 the kilts are brighter and more colorful, hair is neatly confined in a bun, medals are hung on racks rather than sewn on jackets,  THHD dancers will be on the grounds dancing the Highland Fling as generations have done before, carrying on the rich tradition and heritage of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society, the Scottish Home and Scottish Highland Dancing in the Chicago area!


USIR 2014 – Sugar Land, Texas

USIR 2014 – Sugarland, Texas

Jamie and Annika qualify for Nationals!

Jamie Earls and Annika Strolle qualified back in May at the Regional Championships held in Alma, MI to be among the 105 dancers representing five age groups and six regions of the United States to compete in the 2014 United States Inter-Regional Championship held on Saturday, July 20th in Sugarland, TX.

We arrived at the Marriott Hotel in Sugarland on Wednesday and were welcomed with warm Texas hospitality and a goody bag for the dancers, teachers, and parents. A short time later, dancers from the Southwest came to decorate the finalists doors with a ribbon, large bow, and embroidered name ribbon. After spending an hour in the practice room, we loaded up in Randy’s car and headed for the stock up trip to Target, where Gatorade and additional hair supplies were at the top of the list.

Thursday was another hour in the practice room and then the finalist outing to the Pinot’s Palette where the dancers got a chance to display their artistic abilities and paint a cowboy boot with a Texas star and the state flower of Texas (bluebonnets). The banquet was held in the ballroom on Thursday night, with members of the St. Thomas Episcopal School Pipe Band serving as the escorts for the finalists.

Friday was the start of the competition with multiple events taking place including a Premiership (three National dances) for the Premiers. The Midwest Region gathered at the Lasagna House, conveniently located across the street from the hotel for the annual Regional Dinner where they each received a rep gift bag from the Midwest Region. After dinner, many took advantage of the lovely town square in Sugarland and treated themselves to Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, frozen yogurt, or Jamba Juice for desert!
The USIR was held on Saturday morning with a new format for the dancers. Previously the three younger age groups had competed in the morning and the two older age groups competed in the afternoon. This year it was decided to have everyone dance all day, so the Fling and Sword took place in the morning and the Triubhas and Reel were danced in the afternoon. At the conclusion of the dancing, there is the “Parade of Regions” where all the dancers walk across the stage and are introduced and presented with a certificate to commemorate their participation in the event.   The weekend concluded with another day of competition for all levels.

DSC_0711Both Jamie and Annika danced well,and though they did not come home with any medals, they reconnected with old friends, made new friends and celebrated with those in attendance the love of Scottish Highland Dancing!

THHD dancers that have qualified for USIR include:
Rebekah Danaher Anderson (Philadelphia, PA 2000, Long Beach 2001)
Alexandra Cruickshank (Denver, CO 2002)
Jean Stein (Mt. Vernon, WA 2005, Saratoga Springs, NY 2006, Orange, CA 2007, Denver, CO 2008, Nashville, TN 2009, Traverse City, MI 2010, Spokane, WA 2011)
Kristen Williams (Orange, CA 2007, Scottsdale, AZ 2013)
Arbie Karasek (Traverse City, MI 2010, Spokane, WA 2011, Hunt Valley, MD 2012)
Annika Strolle (Spokane, WA 2011, Sugarland, TX 2014)
Jamie Earls (Scottsdale, AZ 2013, Sugarland, TX 2014)

Spring Fling

On Saturday, February 25th, nearly one hundred fifty dancers representing sixteen states and two Canadian provinces were registered for the 20thAnnual Chicago Spring Fling along with the 3rd Pre-Championship and the 7th Annual Chicago Open Championship. The event was held at the Eaglewood Resort and Spa located in Itasca, IL and was put on by Nancy Strolle and the Thistle & Heather Highland Dancers. Continue reading →

SOBHD-BATD-FUSTA-USIR-THHD What do they all mean?


Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing.

This is the “world governing body” headquartered in Edinburgh. The SOBHD publishes the highland textbook under which we all operate. This is the ftumbrella organization” under which everything else operates. The SOBHD is responsible for setting the championship steps each year, the granting of championships and maintaining the technical aspects of the highland dances. Continue reading →

Christmas Around the World

Christmas Around the World has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember! As a child, my holiday season was started and finished at the Museum. My fellow dancers and their parents met at the museum on Thanksgiving morning to begin the decorating process. This was no small task back in the 1960’s as the men from each of the counties had to put the lights on while the ladies carefully laid the ornaments out on the tables and dusted them off. Continue reading →

“Life Skills”

Many of you have heard me say at least once if not multiple times during class – “This is a life skill!”  This is often met with looks of confusion, eye rolling, blank stares, etc. as the dancers really have no idea what I’m talking about!  They have not yet had the opportunity to experience this “life skill” in real life!  Continue reading →