Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I'll Take The High Road

The clans of We Make History gather in the high country for dance and celebration, a few jigs, and inspiration...

Color daugherrotypes by Mr. M. Cynecki
(Click any to see a larger version!)

"HUZZAH!" I cry with my sword raised above my head, scampering to meet fellow compatriots gathered on the lawn outside the ballroom. The air is cool and calm in the fading August sunlight with not a trace of Scottish dampness. I charge forth in my Stewart tartan and weskit, at the moment a warrior but soon a dancer.

I glance to my right, expect to see my companion Madame, but she has displaced herself, traversing the stone path laid out by others.

"I take the hill and she takes the sidewalk," I quip as we reunite and greet our friends.

Several months have passed since last we danced together -- too long, in my mind. An emptiness shall be filled tonight, a desire satisfied. The stress of life in the workplace has worn me down, and though GOD has seen me through, I greatly cherish the opportunity to forget about the rest of the world for awhile.

Waves of clans wash onto our green shores among the pines. I see many, many Highland lasses are joining us tonight in their colorful tartan gowns and bonnets. Hugs and handshakes blossom among old and new friends like wildflowers in a clearing. We pose for many pictures, smiling and reminiscing.

"Someone here offered to teach me a proper Highland Fling," I recall.

A lass shows me how it is done, demonstrating the proper positioning of the feet and arms, pointing her toes perfectly as she capers and hops and changes balance from foot to foot. She can compete with the best of the dancing Scots while I can only watch and clumsily imitate. My calves would rather tangle than jaunt around each other, and my sword weighs me down.

Our beloved leaders and hosts, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora MacDonald, welcome us all and gather us together for the charge... into the ballroom.

The Bonnie Prince has assembled a great company of musicians for us: Bonnie Prince Charlie's Angels. "They fight crime," he says, "and they play a mean jig."

But we will begin with a tribute to our nation, a reminder of the freedoms that Scots and Englishmen fought for together -- freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom to dance! We recite our Pledge of Allegiance and sing the anthem of America, united in everything, past and present.

A simple procession about the ballroom leads us into a twisting path and then a circle where Our Beloved Prince takes turns honoring the Highland Lasses and Lads, clans and subclans, calling them to the center for a brief jig: "All those from Maricopa County!" "All Those From Wickenburg!" "All those from Tucson!" "All brunettes!" "All blondes!" "All those over six feet tall!" "All those under five feet tall!"

"How many of you are new to this form of dancing?" the Bonnie Prince inquires. Many hands rise. He reassures them all shall be well as he explains the first set dance.

Indeed, it is quite simple: marching forward and back, changing sides with our partners, forward and back again, changing sides again, passing shoulders around in what those future Scots would call a "do-si-do," and turning our partners before the top couple of the set gallops down to the bottom. (Describing it, dearest reader, is more difficult than executing it!) This dance sets the pattern for the others, adding or subtracting or re-arranging steps. We would rather dance than learn ornate footwork, shouting "HUZZAH!" after each round to thank our accompanists.

My dancing companion Madame fully understands my duties as a Highland Nobleman, that while I shall not neglect her, I greatly desire to dance with other lasses in need of a partner. She gives her full permission and encouragement for me to seek one out.

Walking to the edge of the great hall, I find two before me, both beautiful, beaming, and unaccompanied. The challenge before me is to make a choice in such a way that no one is left offended or hurt, so I turn to an old method of lot. I cover my eyes with my left hand and extend a pointing finger out in front of me while twirling like a top. The idea is that when I stop and uncover my face, I shall see one of the two ladies before the tip of my finger.

When I lift my hand away, however, a gentleman stands before me, grinning as if he had planned it.

I try again, and this time the maneuver is successful, as I bow to the Highland Lass in front of me and ask if she will afford me a dance. She accepts, and we are soon dancing "Sterling Castle," in which we turn each other by the left and right palms and prance up and down the set with joined hands over the heads of our fellow dancers in the set. Bonnie Prince Charlie's Angels play longer than we expect, and we are joyously winded and perhaps a bit dizzy at the end.

As I suspect, the lass who attempted to teach me the proper Highland Fling is summoned to show the gathered clans. She tells us Highlanders once danced it on their targes. I find dancing it on a wooden floor enough of a task. Again she performs it perfectly, missing not a pointed toe or step or change of balance.

The Bonnie Prince invites others to join her, and my feet can not hold back, so I step towards the center, beginning my poor imitation -- left-foot, right-foot, swing one foot around the other, swing the other foot around the other, raise one hand, raise the other hand, raise both hands, twirl about.

Just as I am gaining my cadence, our musicians suddenly halt. "Why'd ye stop?" I ask.

It is merely a pause to allow others to join us in the fling, or jig, or whatever we desire to call it. A few more Highlanders answer the call.

HUZZAH! HUZZAH! I make it through, still standing.

"You have the basics," the lass who taught me observes. The basics, this evening, are all that I need.

Highland Punch and water flow freely as we all catch our breaths and mingle about. In an evening with many jigs and reels yet to come, pacing is everything, and I labor not to sit out a single dance. It would break my heart if I am unable to rise to the occasion, and... where is Madame?

She has taken another detour. Perhaps on a special mission from the Bonnie Prince? Out to spy on the British? I seek her out and find her in the cool of the evening outside the great hall, conversing and perhaps ministering to a young lass. Madame, I realize, is carrying out her mission, one from GOD.

"Come inside!" I offer to them, not wanting them to miss any more reels or jigs. They do return in time for "Flora MacDonald's Reel," named for the lass who helped the Bonnie Prince escape Scotland in a time of defeat. I have the honor of dancing in the same set with Miss Flora, as our newcomers learn the secret of reeling: turning their partners and then turning the next person of opposite gender in the line before them, working down the set to the merry rhythm of the orchestra. Many easily take to the new and potentially confusing move, and those who don't enjoy our generous encouragement and clapping nonetheless.

We hear more encouragements and words of thanks: from a couple who wed after meeting at a previous Highland gathering and from a lass who is choosing to devote her life to GOD in a convent. Three of our musicians share the story of a brave piping Scot who gave comfort to his compatriots and his life to liberty on the shores of Normandy and play a tune in his honor.

Our Beloved Prince does not hesitate to remind us of why we are all here, and what we are here to do. He implores us once again to use the skills and talents that GOD has given us so that our time in this world will serve purpose. As he is concluding his remarks, my friend Madame steps forward to offer one more tribute... to the Prince himself.

Her voice is strong with passion and thanks as she praises him for all he has done to uplift others. "I spent many years in art classes," she says. "But I realize all the art around me, I've lived!"

Some people demand praise in everything. Some labor through life hearing nary a compliment. And others who deserve them, perhaps don't realize how deeply they are loved until someone tells them, and it becomes the spark that reignites the celestial fire within their hearts.

The Bonnie Prince calls for seven brave volunteer lads and lasses. I heed the call and he reveals to us it is time for the "tag-team" jig, known as the dance where the volunteers begin the dancing and others tap them on the shoulders to relieve them. We step to the center.

"I feel many eyes upon me," I observe.

The cloud of the fateful fall two years ago is dispersed, but not the constant vigilance. Another couple has taken a mild spill earlier this evening during the "Race To Edinburgh," but they bounced right back up and kept on dancing. Scotsmen always get up!

The jig begins and I am once again dancing my weak imitation of the Highland Fling. Others cut in and cut out, including the Bonnie Prince himself. I am mindful not to show off; it is what doomed me in the first place. I need to save something for later. As I am wearing out, a lass taps me on the shoulder, and I am relieved to sashay off the floor.

I pause to recapture my breath and take notice of the happy Highlanders, including a spirited lass... lifting her skirt out of the way to show a wee bit of ankle! Yes, she is only mindful of her safety, but no, no, I cannot allow it. I avert my eyes, and when I am ready, I dash around to her and tap her in kindness to allow her a graceful exit.

"What are the Highlanders known for that strikes fear in the heart of the English?"

"The Highland Charge!" I answer.

And so we charge straight into a pile of shoes left by the lasses to determine our next dancing partners. I prefer the flanking maneuver. It achieves the same result with diminished risk of bodily injury. As the lads dive for the ghillies and slippers, I step around them to the side and tactfully pluck a shoe from the pile.

The night would not be complete without a favorite reel. Virginia might be thousands of miles away from the Highlands, but it is always within our hearts, especially in tribute to the brave Scot Hugh Mercer who gave his life for liberty in George Washington's army.

So with that, the Bonnie Prince cries, "Ladies and Gentlemen, choose your partner for the Virginia Reel."

I know I want Madame to dance it with me. She has accepted an earlier invitation without knowing she is about to dance the Reel, something that has challenged her in the past. She would not dance it if I was not there by her side. I spot her crossing herself, and she is not a Catholic.

The Bonnie Prince examines his timepiece. Perchance this may be one of our marathon reels, one that lasts twenty minutes or more. We shall soon know.

Long lines forward and back... the same again... top lad, bottom lass honor... bottom lad, top lass honor.... right hand turn.... left hand turn.... two hand turn.... back to back... now reel the set! Madame is unsure, but we all help her through it, weaving down the lines, turning the lads and lasses and meeting back in the middle to turn our partners.

"Reel it till you feel it!" cries Our Beloved Prince.

Indeed, she is feeling it, still a wee bit unsure, but she's there and persevering through it all, as she does so often, and in so many ways. She fears very little, and less if I am by her side. She crosses herself again. The dance concludes just before we are all left exhausted beyond renewal.

For the final slow dance, Madame and I share something more stately: not a jig, not a reel, but our own version of the minuet. Others waltz, but we turn stately about each other until she inquires of me: "Do you know a box?"

She means the waltz step. I show it to her the way a young lass has taught me long ago, dragging my inside foot behind me as we move in a square. It is graceful and proper, but not reflective of the joy I wish to express. As such, we once again think outside the box and are back to our minuet, with the turns and circles, a march forward and back, and hands held high in exuberance.

A bit showy? Perhaps. Yet this is who we are. This is something of our own, inspired by history but rooted in imagination, carried out by two souls wistful for the grace not found in this world.

More pictures from a weekend of Highland merriment here.

NEXT: Celtic Cowboys And Western Wranglers

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