Heather Richendrfer is a Bellingham native with lifelong involvement in Scottish Highland dance. A graduate of Western Washington University's Campus School, Sehome High School and WWU, Heather has taught in Whatcom County for 38 years and has judged on the international circuit for 35 years. Her credentials as a judge led her to adjudicate the Canadian Interprovincial, Australian Champion of Champions and World Championships in Scotland. Her skills as an instructor allow opportunities to train dancers across North America.
Her school, the Clan Heather Dancers, presents the annual Reel Competition; open to the public, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at Whatcom Community College. Details: clanheather.com.
Question: What is Highland dance?
Answer: Scotland's solo dance form has existed for hundreds of years. Originally performed by men only, many dances are tied to stories of hunts or battles and are performed to live bagpipe music. Precision of movement, athleticism and grace are trademarks of Highland dance.
Highland dancing is an elite competitive dance sport in which participants may travel the world to vie for prizes at prestigious events. Many people attend area Highland Games in the summer but may not understand expert instruction is available locally and events are held year-round.
Q: How did you begin participating in Highland dance as a dancer?
A: My mother was proud of her Scottish heritage and introduced my sister and me to Highland dancing, and my brother to bagpiping. Eventually, I traveled to Vancouver, B.C., to train for competition, teaching and judging. I loved the aspects of Highland dance that allowed for performance and travel. Vancouver has long been a center for Scottish culture, and I was happy to train in one of the best-known schools there.
Q: And as a teacher?
A: Teaching dance was a natural progression. My first students came when I was in high school. It was a means to pass along my love for the performing art. I was in awe of judges that traveled the competition circuit and decided that was something I wanted, too. The most difficult test of my life - the adjudicators exam involved written and mock judging parts. I am one of the few who was successful on my first try.
During my nearly 20-year career in human resources, my last position was that of personnel director for The Bellingham Herald, I always taught dance. In 1997 I decided to make Highland and Irish dance my full-time career. I opened studios in Mount Vernon and Everett to provide Celtic dance education throughout the region.
Q: Who are your students? Are they competitive by nature?
A: My students study Scottish and Irish dance. They are males and females ages 2 to adult. Not everyone is involved in competition; some take dance for recreational reasons. My school has a well-known performance team, and many dancers enjoy participating in regional events. Some have competitive drive, and I enjoy providing opportunities for them. I am organizer of three annual Highland competitions - two of which are championship events - providing local opportunities to compete at all levels.
Q: What do you look for when you judge?
A: Technical presentation of movements and steps is important. Expression or style are characteristics I look for. Elevation and timing are also imperative.
Q: What's the Oct. 27 competition all about?
A: The Reel Competition attracts dancers from the local area as well as British Columbia. Dancers as young as age 4 present the Highland fling and sword dance as primaries. Beginners, novice and intermediate dancers follow performing traditional Highland and Scottish national dances. Premier is the highest level of competitive dance beginning at 11 a.m. and continuing throughout the afternoon. We offer a choreography category where dancers have latitude with steps and music utilizing authentic movements with a contemporary twist.
Q: What else do you enjoy in your leisure time?
A: I design and construct costumes for Scottish and Irish dance. I enjoy creative projects for my 90-year-old home, including gardening, ceramic tile design and decorating. For many years I have volunteered supporting U.S. military-related organizations.
Reach MARGARET BIKMAN at email@example.com or 715-2273.