Christie McLeod Freestone’s love affair with highland dancing has spanned the last half century. When she was eight years old, her Scottish grandfather arranged for Christie and her sister, Jeanne, to study with two of the great highland dance instructors of the day, Pearl Magnuson and Sharon Magnuson (Capitani). After four lessons, Christie decided that highland dancing was “too hard,” and hung up her ghillies. Her sister continued to dance, becoming one of Michigan’s most successful champions in the 1960′s. After four years of traveling throughout North America to highland games, Christie decided to join her sister and become a highland dancer once again. This time, she “caught the bug” and the rest is history.
Not a natural dancer, Christie had to break down movements into isolated positions in order to perfect them. She quickly discovered a talent for analysis and an ability to teach. Her out-going personality, mixed with her ability to instruct, led to the founding of the Mid-Michigan Highland Dance Academy in 1970. As an Alma College freshman, she was recruited to teach her first student, Mary Jo Rohrer (Pung) whose father was the Community Education Director for the public schools. He asked her to teach a six-week course to the community children of Alma. In the first class offered, four students registered. The second class session enrolled 12 students. The third class session produced over 150 students. Highland dance officially became an institution in Alma, Michigan-Scotland, USA.
In the late 1970′s, Christie initiated discussions with the Detroit area teachers about holding a national championship for highland dancing in the United States. Knowing that such an undertaking would need national support, she took the idea to a teachers’ meeting at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in 1980. It was decided to present a proposal to teachers from around the country at the Las Vegas International Highland Dance Conference in 1981. In order to sponsor a national championship, a governing body was necessary. The Federation of United States Teachers and Adjudicators of Highland Dance (FUSTA) formed and Christie was elected to be the first president. The first USIR was held in 1981 and Christie had a national champion that first year. In the past 25 years, she has had regional finalists at every USIR and has produced 11 USIR champions.
As an early elementary school teacher with a Master Degree in early childhood education, Christie has researched motor skills development in children and adapted her findings to the teaching of very young highland dancers. She has taught numerous workshops throughout North America sharing her techniques for teaching beginner dancers.
As the director of the Mid-Michigan Highland Dance Academy in Alma, where she currently heads a staff of six member and associate teachers of highland dance, Christie’s students have won over 100 championships throughout the world. She has trained 23 member teachers and three SOBHD judges. She initiated the idea of a judge’s training program, that has became a reality through the collaboration of life-time friends and judges, Liz and Bill Weaver, and student and judge, Kate DeGood. Christie is a life-time Fellow member of the BATD and a member of the SOBHD judges’ panel. She teaches first grade at a public elementary school in Ithaca, Michigan and is an Adjunct Professor of highland dance at Alma College. Christie’s late husband Dave still is, “the wind beneath her wings,” and she is the mother of Craig, “the pride of her life!”
Christie’s legacy is the positive approach she uses when teaching students. Parents are encouraged to watch lessons and to practice with their children. Students are encouraged to participate in other activities, even if it means adjusting dance schedules. She believes that students must experience all that life offers before they are able to decide upon which path they will follow in life. Only then will they find their “gifts” and develop a passion for living. Perhaps, Christie’s greatest gift is that every student leaves a workshop or a dance class feeling special. She often believes in her students more than they believe in themselves. She credits her personal successes in life to the lessons she learned from her loving parents, Catherine and Max McLeod.
Most people slow down after 40 years on the job, but Christie just keeps going at a frantic pace. With a smile, a hug and a word of encouragement, Christie Freestone has made an indelible mark on the world of highland dance.
Please take a moment to post a comment. This is a space to share stories, show your appreciation and let Christie Freestone know how she may has impacted and enriched your experience with Highland dance.
On behalf of FUSTA and the Discover Scottish Dance efforts we’d like to to be the first to say “Thank You” to Mrs. Freestone for her honorable commitment and outstanding achievements that contributed to making the U.S.A. Highland dance community what it is today.
Born in Balloch, Scotland Sheila Mittig studied all forms of dance at the Stewart School, Alexandria. Sheila
emigrated to Dearborn, Michigan in 1964 and immediately began teaching Highland Dancing. She is a Life Member of the B.A.T.D. and has been on the S.O.B.H.D. judge’s panel for many years. Sheila has judged and taught workshops all over the world and has taught two World Champions. Sheila now lives in Novi, Michigan where she still teaches along with her daughter, Alison. A former student of Sheila’s, Alison is a four time U.S. Highland Dance Champion.
Please take a moment to post a comment. This is a space to share stories, show your appreciation and let Sheila Mittig know how she has impacted and enriched your experience with Highland dance.
On behalf of FUSTA and the Discover Scottish Dance efforts we’d like to to be the first to say “Thank You” to Sheila Mittig for her honorable commitment and outstanding achievements that contributed to making the U.S.A. Highland dance community what it is today.
CATHY HYND was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. Living close to the Canadian border she began Highland lessons at an early age in St. Catherines, Ontario, first from Bill Cameron and most of her competitive years from Shirley Ashdown. She had a very successful career as a competitor from a young age into her twenties at all the major competitions in the Eastern United States and Ontario.
After completing a degree from the University of Buffalo, she began teaching and often judged when she retired from competition. At the start of a career in Journalism, she became eager to organize a cohesive group of Highland teachers in the Eastern U.S. states, and was the co-founder of the United States Highland Dancing Association (USHDA). The original group included Marguerite Reid, Margaret Callendar, Vera Miller, M.E. Davidson, Margaret Killen and several others who were teaching in major cities.
After getting the organization up and running and organizing the first SOBHD sanctioned championship in the U.S. in the early 1960′s, she met her future husband John Hynd, and after their marriage she moved to California and began teaching along with John and then on her own. Cathy and John were amongst the first American members of the Worldwide SOBHD Judges Panel.
One of Cathy’s legacies will be that she and Jenny MacLachlan from Kitchener, Ontario organized the first Highland workshop for dancers from the U.S. and Canada who came together to enhance their skills and knowledge. Instructors at this event were Heather Jolley and Sandra Bald Jones. Years later, Cathy and Sandra organized the first “World of Highland Dancing Conference” in Las Vegas with professionals gathering from the U.S, Canada, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. This event made the world of Highland much smaller and resulted in new communication and friendships that had not been seen prior to this event.
Cathy was part of a group who organized what is now FUSTA at that first Conference which was held in Las Vegas in 1980. From its inception, she has continued to be committed to the goals and success of FUSTA and has actively participated from the beginning until the present day. Christie Freestone acted as the first President and Cathy was supportive from day one acting in various capacities. She served as the first West Regional Delegate for several terms, then as Vice-President and President for two years beginning in 1996. She prides herself in having attended all but two of the USIR events and has served often as co-organizer or FUSTA Liaison at the USIR’s in California. As President she attended the first SOBHD Liaison meeting in Glasgow, and began the practice of holding a mid-winter meeting for the FUSTA Board of Directors, which has become an essential part in running FUSTA today. She also appointed Lynne Erbrick as chairman of the much needed and important Judges Committee, and produced the CD “Dance to the Piper”, coaxing several U.S. pipers to donate their time and effort. The CD has become a significant and worthwhile fundraiser for FUSTA for many years.
Apart from her administrative and organizational efforts, Cathy has managed to produce 12 USIR champions, a Junior World Champion and a 1st runner up, as well as champions at the Commonwealth and Bute Championships. Some of her former pupils are current members of FUSTA and several are on the SOBHD Worldwide Judges Panel.
Over a 50-plus year span, Cathy remains committed to the goals of FUSTA and the SOBHD, and to excellence in competitive Highland Dancing. She is currently a life member of the BATD and a member and examiner of the UKA.
Cathy and John reside in Manhattan Beach, CA. Their daughter Janeen, also a successful competitive dancer, is married to Richard Tronnes and they reside in Vancouver, Canada with their three year old daughter, Ava.
Florence Hart started highland dancing lessons in Scotland when she was 5 years old. She became a Cowal medalist and Fife champion. At 15, she won a scholarship to the Celtic Ballet School of Theatre Dance and studied there for 3 years in Glasgow. Florence danced in Britain until the age of 23. She arrived in the United States in 1961 where she started teaching highland dancing. She began her SOBHD judging career in 1967. Florence has a fellowship in SDTA and is a member of UKAPTD. She has trained many champion dancers and has had representatives from the Midwest at the USIR for the last 25 years. She taught at Macalester College for 38 years and organized the Macalester Highland Games in 1965.
Please take a moment to post a comment. This is a space to share stories, show your appreciation and let Florence Hart know how she has impacted and enriched your experience with Highland dance.
On behalf of FUSTA and the Discover Scottish Dance efforts we’d like to be the first to say “Thank You” to Mrs. Hart for her honorable commitment and outstanding achievements that contributed to making the USA Highland dance community what it is today.
Margaret Callander was born in Cleveland, Ohio and began dancing at the age of 5. She is a Life Member of the BATD and has been a Member of the SOBHD Judges’ Panel for many years. She began teaching in 1950; in 1955 she won at the Edinburgh Festival. Her students have won many awards in the United States, Canada and Scotland. Prior to the creation of FUSTA, she was secretary of its predecessor, USHDA. This Association was comprised of members from the present Midwest Region and Eastern Region. Out of this Association, FUSTA was born. Margaret was one of the founders of the Ohio Scottish Games, which led to the organization of the Ohio Scottish Arts School. For the more than 30 years the School has promoted Highland Dancing to students from the United States and Canada. The School promotes teacher training and has produced hundreds of teachers to carry on our Scottish Arts and Traditions.
Please take a moment to post a comment. This is a space to share stories, show your appreciation and let Margaret Callander know how she has impacted and enriched your experience with Highland dance.
On behalf of FUSTA and the Discover Scottish Dance efforts we’d like to to be the first to say “Thank You” to Ms. Callander for her honorable commitment and outstanding achievements that contributed to making the USA Highland dance community what it is today.
Betty Lawrence, originally from Ayr, Scotland, lived in Oklahoma City for many years before returning to Ayr in January 2011 with her husband Matt and her Scottish terrier MacDougall. She has taught highland dancing for over 50 years and is a member of SDTA. She is a fellow and examiner emeritus of the BATD and is on the SOBHD judges panel. Betty has taught at the Ohio School of Scottish Arts for numerous years and has mentored many dancers. She is an advocate of dancers continuing their education to become teachers and judges. Betty continues to foster a love of highland dancing and shares her knowledge with many students and teachers. In 2011 Betty Lawrence was honored by the SOBHD with an honorary membership. Below is the presentation from the SOBHD.net website.
SOBHD Congratulates Betty Lawrence
Congratulations to Betty Lawrence who has become an Honorary Member of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing.
Betty and her husband Matt emigrated from Ayr to North America in 1964. They returned to Ayr in January 2011.
In 1965, Betty became Dance Director for the Kiltie Band of Oklahoma City, and thus began her long, successful career in the United States. World Champion Mary Beth Miller credits Betty with establishing Highland in the Kansas City area. Over the years, Betty coached many United States Champions and prepared numerous teachers and judges for their professional exams. She was the most sought after workshop instructor in the country. Betty led workshops at the Balmoral School in Houston for many years. She was the head instructor at the Ohio Workshop in Oberlin for more than 25 years. She followed Mrs. Haggarty as instructor at Grandfather Mountain’s School of Scottish Arts until the school ended, and was invited to return the first year that the School started up again. Betty also taught regularly at Denver, Salt Lake City, Portland, Petaluma, and Raleigh. Generations of dancers and teachers became her family.
Betty had a magical way of getting dancers to do more than they thought possible. The dynamics she created in a class or private lesson built trust and enabled dancers to tackle the impossible and succeed. She is a gifted natural teacher who could truly teach a stick to do a good Highland Fling. Betty also had a special way of connecting with dancers – who must have sensed her love of Highland Dance and absolute commitment to it. Every year at the USIR and when she was at Cowal for the Worlds, dancers who had worked with her clamored for a few minutes of Mrs. Lawrence’s attention.
Betty was the 2nd person in the United States to become a Fellow Examiner of the BATD. She is also an Emeritus Member of the SDTA and a retired member of the SOBHD Judges’ Panel.
Betty was an active FUSTA member and headed up the USIR Scrutineering Team for years. She also helped create the Scrutineering Certification Program for FUSTA.
FUSTA recognized Mrs. Lawrence’s immense contribution to Highland Dance by making her one of the first inductees into the FUSTA Hall of Fame in 2006.
Please take a moment to post a comment. This is a space to share stories, show your appreciation and let Betty Lawrence know how she has impacted and enriched your experience with Highland dance.
On behalf of FUSTA and the Discover Scottish Dance efforts we’d like to to be the first to say “Thank You” to Mrs. Lawrence for her honorable commitment and outstanding achievements that contributed to making the U.S.A. Highland dance community what it is today.
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