“Feast of the Haggis”

Thistle and Heather Highland Dancers “Feast of the Haggis”

I can’t say for sure the year, but my recollections are vivid.  The grandeur of the Grand Ballroom at the Conrad Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue, the main floor and balcony filled with Scots decked out in their finest highland garb enjoying all the evening had to offer.  In the wings, the waiters were waiting for the cue to parade through the tables with plates of “warm, reeking, rich haggis” to be parceled out to waiting guests, excitement filled the air!  The head table with the dignitaries was positioned along the wall in the middle of the long part of the ballroom, while the entertainment stage filled the short end.   We waited while toasts were made, anthems were sung, haggis was glorified and dinner was served.   I would find out many years later that there was an “order” to the room and that the best seats in the house were at the intersection of the cross aisles in the middle of the room.   Kitty Campbell, a woman of small stature was a force to be reckoned with and someone you definitely didn’t want to offend for she had power……not just any power…..power over where people sat at the dinner.  As far as the dance parents went, they figured they had the best seats in the house……the tables right in front of the entertainment stage!  Right up where all the action took place.  A few of our dads “paid the price” for they were called into service multiple times during the evening to move the piano…..to the center of the stage for the anthems, to the back of the stage for the dancers, to the center of the stage for the community sing, to the back of the stage for the Illinois Saint Andrew Society Pipes and Drums.  I doubt they ever complained about this duty, it was just something they willingly jumped up and did.

It was a different time in the 1960’s.  The dancers roamed the halls of the Hilton more or less together as we waited for our moment of fame!  Actually, I think we spent a great deal of time in the elevators going up and down and pushing all the buttons, but enough about that.   We wore plaids, sporrans, hats with feather hackles,  flashes, and our medals proudly sewn on our jackets.  There were records…..records of every dancer invited to perform at the Feast and I’m sure we (my parents) anxiously awaited my first invitation.  We practiced…..we practiced some more…..we practiced in the elevator lobby on our changing room floor, we practiced some more and then it was time.  The pipers took their place on stage and the dancers followed and stood in the front. The house lights dimmed, the spotlights raised, the pipers played and we danced!  Oh the thrill of it all!  It was magic…….

A lot has changed since then, the head table is gone, the dancers no longer wear all the additional costume pieces, and the venue has changed, but the magic of the event remains the same.  It is a special night as the Illinois Saint Andrew Society members and friends gather to celebrate the Anniversary Dinner “Feast of the Haggis”.

The “Feast” took place this year at the Palmer House, a hotel with much the same grandeur as the Chicago Hilton & Towers.  Our changing rooms were “stalls” located just outside of the ballroom.  Sarah, Annika and Kristen performed “Sizzle” with Bangers and Mash as the ending to the cocktail reception, the room dividers were parted and the dancers were in place ready to start the fling with piper, Scott McCawley.  The drummers led the guests into the ballroom and once they were out of range, Scott began the Fling.  Four of the dancers performed from the balcony, while the rest formed two lines on the dance floor!  The guests then took their seats and the evening began.

Feast 7

After dinner, as I was walking down the hallway, I ran into some very familiar faces that were not guests at the dinner, but yet somehow belonged there.  These were three sisters that I danced with as a child.  Diane and her husband, Bob, opened up their basement to me many years ago to start a Saturday morning dance class in Wheaton.  Her younger sisters were in visiting from California and one had been attending a conference at the Chicago Hilton.  They had just come from the Hilton, where they had taken photos of the grand staircase, rode the elevators up and down, and stood in the Grand Ballroom, with many of the same recollections that I mentioned in the first paragraph that was written before the event took place.  Bob had been aware that the Feast was taking place and suggested that the group take a walk over.  It was a coincidence that they didn’t even have to go looking for me, I was the first person they saw!  I can’t even begin to tell you on how many levels I have stayed connected to this family over the years as many of the cousins danced and I taught many of their children.  You just never know where connections will arise…..it is truly a small world.

The choreography performance with Chelsea House Orchestra was AMAZING and worth every bit of the extra effort and practice that it took to get it that way!  Thanks to the twelve dancers that participated in this choreography!

Heather Queen, Katie Hicks and several of the dancers stayed until the end, enjoying the music of Chelsea House Orchestra and dancing the rest of the night away!

Feast of the Haggis 2014

Feast of the Haggis 2014 – down time!