Lifestyle

To pipe, to Put, to Jig and Drum

Californian Highland dancer Megan Ashworth bounds into the air during the 2006 dance competition of the Whidbey Island Highland Games. Dance teams from across the state descend on Whidbey Island for the Highland Games every year to show-off the intricate foot and hand-work that is required in Scottish dancing. - Brian Kelly
Californian Highland dancer Megan Ashworth bounds into the air during the 2006 dance competition of the Whidbey Island Highland Games. Dance teams from across the state descend on Whidbey Island for the Highland Games every year to show-off the intricate foot and hand-work that is required in Scottish dancing.
— image credit: Brian Kelly

Fancy a Scottish fling? Or perhaps you’d prefer the Australian Ladies.

No worries, both can be found from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday, Aug. 11 at the Whidbey Island Highland Games at Greenbank Farm.

In addition to the fling and the Ladies — two dances that join the reels, jigs and other fancy-stepping footwork done by the Scottish Highland dancers who come from all over the region to compete — this annual event has something for everyone.

The centerpiece of the games is the competitions. They include four major areas which, besides dancing, include highland piping, drumming and traditional Scottish heavy athletics.

Angus and Maureen MacDonald are the owners of the Tartan Thistle in Freeland and have been the organizers of these games at Greenbank for nine years.

Angus was on hand one recent morning while he packed up the truck to hit the road for another Highland Games, one of several in the region which the MacDonalds attend.

MacDonald said that the whole connection to the games for him is bagpiping and the MacDonald’s shop sells anything a piper or Scotophile might need. He and most everyone in his family have been piping all of their lives.

“My dad was a piper, my grandfather and my great-grandfather,” he said.

“And Maureen’s brothers are in a world championship band called the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band from Vancouver, B.C. You see it’s in the family,” he added.

MacDonald said the Highland Games has evolved since he and his wife started organizing them years ago with a single tent. It used to be strictly for the pipers, drummers, dancers and athletes explained MacDonald.

But now the games welcome all manner of vendors, the clan tents where genealogical experts set up software programs that fish for undiscovered identities and family origins and even jousting demonstrations that have no connection to Scottish games but have crossed over from the medieval faire circuit.

The MacDonalds now have eight tents with a four- to six-person team.

“It’s lots of hard work,” said MacDonald. “But we have fun doing it.”

The Highland Games are notorious for the deep cultural experience of Scottish culture that is a wee bit of Old World fun for the whole family.

Patrons will enjoy the variety of Celtic performances which are scheduled throughout the day on the Main Stage but may also add to a unique and interesting day by observing the intense athletic competition where one can see an athlete attempt to throw a 56-pound steel weight over a bar, or “toss” a 20-foot-long telephone pole of sorts so it flips and lands precisely on a targeted spot.

Bret Christensen is the co-athletic director of this year’s games and has been competing in the athletics portion of the games for about two years.

A detail-oriented jewelry maker by trade, there is a bit of irony to the fact that Christensen works with tiny stones during the week and heaves very large ones on the weekends. He won first place in his class in 2006.

Christensen became interested in Scottish Heavy Athletics, as the sport is called, after attending the Whidbey Island Highland Games a few years ago.

He said that watching the games is very exciting and people get a chance to sound their “barbaric yawp.”

“The crowd at the Whidbey Games is very intimate and the athletes get a lot of energy from a good crowd,” he said. It’s an adrenaline rush.”

Christensen, who practices in an arena in his yard and also with a group of athletes on the mainland, said this year the competition will be tough. Athletes generally come from areas in Washington and Oregon, but may come from as far away as Canada to compete.

There are many games held throughout the United States and Canada, but the world championships are held in Scotland.

“Some day I would love to go to the World Games,” said Christensen, 34.

“As long as my body holds up,” he added.

Opening ceremonies will take place at noon followed by a massed bands competition.

The Cascade Comets and the Flyball Dogs relay race will also be on hand to entertain as well.

In addition to the entertainment and various competitions, guests will be able to browse a variety of vendor shops which display traditional Scottish clothing, literature, music, food and other sundries and a beer garden with three types of beer on tap. There will also be a variety of events for kids.

Parking is free and Island Transit is running buses to the farm all day. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, military personnel with an ID and children ages 5 through 12. Children under 4 can get in free.

No pets are allowed, however.

Check out the Website at www.wihg.org or call 331-5437.

Patricia Duff can be reached at 221-5300 or pduff@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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