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Dance coach brings Scottish fun to Oregon

(Jennifer Priest Mitchell is a freelance writer in Beaverton. She can be reached at jnjmitchellyahoo.com.)

All cultures include some form of dance, and while many of today's youth kick up their heels, swivel their hips or wave their arms to various forms of modern music, a select few engage in a centuries-old dance form that requires excellent coordination and precision.

Scottish Highland Dance is a fun, unique style of movement and Ann Johnson, who lives in the Tigard area, is part of a family who values and shares this hobby. Through her involvement with the Portland Highland Games, as well as a local dance studio, Ann helps keep alive a beautiful tradition of dance.

'My mother is Scottish and my dad was a Swede,' she said. 'For my dad's father-in-law's birthday one year, my father learned to play the bagpipes.'

Johnson laughs and says that she was three years old at the time, and that once you've heard the bagpipes and done a little play dancing you're not going to stop. By age 6, she was stepping and counting and beginning what would become a lifetime of Highland Dance.

'My mother believed all girls should learn some kind of dance for poise and grace, and Highland Dance was available, and that's what I took up,' she reflects fondly. While growing up in southwest Portland, this native Oregonian was able to keep up with her dance lessons and develop a true appreciation for the various dances and their historical significance.

'Highland dancing is not mainstream,' Johnson said. 'It is unfortunate that it isn't, too, because it teaches both children and parents many life lessons.' She shares that it is a very individual activity and you rise or fall on your own accord while learning it.

'If you do well, it is because you put in the time and practice. You do not hide behind a team or a coach … you rise and fall entirely on your own merit,' Johnson said.

She explains that it is a great activity for young people because you really do get out of it what you put into it; she said it is wonderful to learn that lesson early in life, that there are no shortcuts and that hard work really does pay off.

Johnson taught school for 31 years and has always been involved in dance in some way as well. She has taught Scottish Highland Dance in Portland since 1974 and reveals that she loves being around the dancers, the music and the many competitions her students attend. Because she now judges dance competitions, she also has a number of travel commitments, which take her all over the United States as well as to Canada and Scotland.

She is the Vice President in charge of competition for the 54th Highland Games of Portland, which will take place on July 15 at Mount Hood Community College.

'The gates open at 8:00 a.m. and there are all kinds of family-friendly, fun activities throughout the day,' she said. 'Bagpipes, drumming and dancing competitions, delightful food that is traditional Scottish fare, as well as regular festival-type food. You'll leave with the sound of bagpipes ringing in your ears.'

Though Ann is grateful that she has been able to travel so much in her lifetime, she always looks forward to returning to Oregon.

'It's beautiful here … I don't even mind the gray days. There is a certain beauty to the gray days. It is so clean here,' she said. 'The air is fresh … there is little humidity and no bugs. We have seasons, but they are not too radical.

'And, Oregonians are slower to become hurried like the rest of the country. We have a sense of community and we care about the people and places around us.'

For more information on the Highland Games, visit the Web site www.phga.org. For more information about Scottish Dance and Ann's dance studio, call Ann Johnson's Studio of Highland Dance at 503-524-7876. She is currently taking registrations for fall classes.