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.

Participants and judges were welcomed by the two story mission style entrance of the Eaglewood (formerly Nordic Hills Resort) on Friday night. The competition got underway early on Saturday morning with each participant receiving a package of Walkers Shortbread and Tootsie Rolls upon check-in. Six judges evaluated up to eighteen dancers at a time over the eight one feet of dance floor divided into six stages. The judges came from Scotland, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, and Ontario.

Sydney Smith, from Milwaukee, WI joined us to present the morning awards. Sydney suffered a critical illness shortly after her first birthday which left her on life support, in kidney failure, and with significant brain damage due to two cardiac arrests. Even as she began to recover, she was unable to hold her head up or even swallow for weeks. But Sydney is a fighter, and has worked hard to regain those skills and so much more. She’s now a first grade student who loves to color, read, sing, and dance! We first met Sydney at the Milwaukee Highland Games in June of 2011.

When the competition was finished she asked her dad to bring her on stage so that she could “dance”! Syndey showed up again at the Wisconsin Highland Games in September and had the chance to come up on stage and “dance” with us during the workshop. She won our hearts and we invited her to be an “honorary” dancer with the Thistle & Heather Highland Dancers. We found her a kilt and hose and the required“gold jacket and headband”. She and her dad marched with us in the State Street Thanksgiving Day Parade, while her mom and sister cheered us on from the sidelines. She also joined us on stage at the Scotland performance for Christmas Around the World at the Museum of Science and Industry and “danced” with us for the finale from her wheelchair. Although Sydney is unable to walk or stand without assistance, that has not quieted the dancer in her. She practices all her hand positions and can bounce to the Highland Fling with the best of them! A proud member of McDonald Clan Ranald, Sydney loves everything about being Scottish.

Bill Smillie and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren were on hand to hand out the awards to the dancers in the Pre-Championship event in Memory of Isobel Smillie. This year we added an adult category 25& Over. Congratulations to THHD dancer and associate teacher, Emily Moog for being the trophy winner in the 19& Under 25 age category. Isobel Smillie was born and raised in Ayr, Scotland where she learned Highland Dancing. After immigrating to the US in the late 1960’s, Isobel taught Highland Dance and formed the Gary Highland Dancers. She taught dances such as the Sean Triubhas, Highland Fling, Broadsword, Sword Dance, Foursome Reel, Strathspey and Reel. Her husband, Bill Smillie, played pipes for her dancers at Tartan Balls and Highland competitions. Isobel gave 100% to teaching and living her life to the fullest. After she retired from teaching, she could always be found cheering her husband and grandchildren’s bagpipe band in every band and solo competition from Illinois to Scotland, in addition to their parades, festivals and dances. Because of her passion for life and dance and everything Scottish, her family is proud to dedicate the Isobel Smillie Memorial to celebrate the finest young dancers of all ages from across North America. Isobel would be overjoyed to know that her legacy lives on through this celebration of life and dance.

Following the pre-premier and pre-championship competition in the morning was the solo and group choreography competition. This relatively new event gives the Premier dancers a chance to express their individuality as they create their own costuming and dance using highland movements to a piece of Celtic music of their choosing. This year we added a new trophy In Memory Of Patricia Brown LeNoble for the winners of the solo, duet and group choreography. Pat was a strong supporter of the Scottish Community in Chicago. Seldom did she miss an important event related to the dancers. Pat always enjoyed watching the choreography competition, so it seemed a fitting tribute to introduce a perpetual trophy in her honor.

All the winners names will be engraved on the base and the perpetual crystal trophy will remain on display at the Scottish Home in North Riverside along with the other Spring Fling trophies.

The five crystal Championship trophies along with the Pre-Championship and the Choreography crystal trophies will be on display in Heritage Hall throughout the year.

Before the morning medal and trophies are presented, we hand out a very special trophy to a THHD dancer. The “Spirit of the Dance” Award was established in 2003 in memory of my dance teacher and friend, Margaret Baikie MacDonald Johnson. Margaret taught highland dancing in the Chicago area for over 55 years. She was passionate about highland dancing and she truly believed that “effort” was worthy of praise. Sally Johnston, Jennifer Hatton presented this year’s award to Annika Strolle of Downers Grove.

After a short lunch break, the afternoon Championship got underway with two platforms with three judges at each platform. The day finished up with the awarding of medals, prize money and trophies to the Premier dancers.

Congratulations to Arbie Karasek from Lombard, IL for her 2nd Runner-Up finish in the 16 & Under 18 age category.

Pipers for the day were John Recknagel from Tucker, GA, Chris Farruggia from River Forest, IL and Ben Peterson from Downers Grove, IL. Babuk Ink, CKC Designs, Under Cerulean Skies, and Rampant Lion Celtic Traders were on hand as vendors. Photographer, Lori Greene of TSS Photography was on hand throughout the day taking action and posed shots of the dancers.

In addition to a Midwest teachers meeting on Sunday morning, many of the dancers participated in a three hour workshop led by five of the six judges from Saturday.

This event could not happen without the continued financial support of many generous donors, including the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. The ISAS Scottish Festival and Highland Games full page ad graced the back cover of the program book and an ad for the Scottish Home appeared at across from the back inside cover. The Thistle & Heather Highland Dancers are indeed very grateful to the Illinois Saint Andrew Society for their financial assistance towards the operation of this event.


Nancy Strolle

Director, Thistle & Heather Highland Dancers