Honoring FUSTA Hall of Fame Member Ann Johnson

Ann Johnson
Ann Johnson

Ann Johnson was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. By the time she was three her father had learned to play the bagpipes as a birthday surprise for her Scottish grandfather. From then on the music was always present and Highland Dance lessons followed when she was six.

By the time she was 7 she began competing and enjoyed modest success. It was not until she went away to college with every intention of giving up Highland Dance that she discovered she was not ready to do that.

Ann continued to work at her dancing often without regular instruction while she attended the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. Learning to be analytical and to practice effectively were valuable acquisitions that resulted in rewarding competitive successes on the west coast of the U.S. and Canada.

After graduation Ann taught 4th grade for two years in Tacoma before returning home to Portland in 1974 where she had been hired by the Hillsboro School District to teach 5th and eventually 6th grade.

In 1980, she attended the organizational meeting of FUSTA held at a Highland Dance conference in Las Vegas. It was easy to become enthusiastically involved in the efforts to preserve and promote Highland Dance in the U.S. Ann served as the Northwest Region’s first delegate and was elected FUSTA’s third president in 1984.

In 2003, shortly after retiring from a 31-year career as a classroom teacher, Ann was again elected FUSTA President becoming the first person to hold that office twice. The world of Highland Dance had changed considerably in the 20 years since she had last been president. It was a world made smaller by electronic communication and the ease of travel. FUSTA and the overseas affiliates of the SOBHD communicated more frequently and found that all were suffering from growing pains in one form or another.

She is credited with re-establishing harmonious relationships with the SOBHD. During Ann’s three terms as president she also oversaw the establishment of the FUSTA Hall of Fame and the academic scholarship for high school seniors. FUSTA’s Scottish representative to the SOBHD became a regular attendee at the Mid-Winter meeting; a move that did a great deal to enhance communication and trust between the two organizations. The FUSTA newsletter and ballot ‘went electronic’ and the vital positions of National Registrar and National Judges’ Committee Chairman became elected rather than appointed positions on the Board of Directors.

For over 30 years, she has been a volunteer and more recently Vice President Competition and on the executive committee of the Portland Highland Games Association.

Ann has been a member of SOBHD Adjudicators’ Panel since 1974 and is an SDTA Life Member and Examiner.

Her dance school in Portland has produced consistently well-trained dancers who have exhibited a love of dance and the true spirit of sportsmanship. Her students have won local and national championships, including the USIR, and medals and trophies at the major summer championships in Scotland.

It is her belief that all who participate in Highland Dance have an inherent responsibility to give back so that others can enjoy the wonderful experiences and opportunities it offers. The privilege of participation in Highland Dance and FUSTA has been a highlight in her life.

Please take a moment to post a comment. This is a space to share stories, show your appreciation and let Ann Johnson 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 Ann Johnson for her honorable commitment and outstanding achievements that contributed to making the U.S.A. Highland dance community what it is today.

Honoring FUSTA Hall of Fame Member Christie Freestone

CChristie 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.

Honoring FUSTA Hall of Fame Member Sheila Mittig

Sheila Mittig (right) with her daughter Alison Plemmons (left) and dancer Sarah Ketron (middle) at the Chicago Spring Fling
Sheila Mittig (right) with her daughter Alison Plemmons (left) and dancer Sarah Ketron (middle) at the Chicago Spring Fling

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.

Honoring FUSTA Hall of Fame Member Margaret Callander

Margaret Callander (left) at the USIR banquet in Nashville with Lila Greco (center) and Sara Gilchrist (right) both products of her dancing legacy in Ohio.
Margaret Callander (left) at the USIR banquet in Nashville with Lila Greco (center) and Sara Gilchrist (right) both products of her dancing legacy in Ohio.

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.