LOOKING BACK: Heather, right at 11 years old, next to her friend and rival, Wendy Plant.
LOOKING BACK: Heather, right at 11 years old, next to her friend and rival, Wendy Plant. Contributed

Former dance champ relives Highland days

IT is from a cosy chair in her living room that Heather McLean now gets to assess young dancers. And they're on television, rather than in kilts and Tam O'Shanters dancing on a flat-bed truck as they were in her day.

Heather is now 80 years old but she still hasn't lost touch with the world of dance and loves watching TV talent shows.

"I enjoy every item,” she said.

"The judges have a very hard time to pick the winners.”

Heather was just 15 years old when she started teaching highland dancing, utilising the veranda of her parent's home in McGregor Terrace for her ten pupils. And there was still room for a bagpiper accompaniment as well.

She then upgraded to the then-Presbyterian Church with more dancers. Several of her students won money and medals dancing at Highland gatherings and also performed at concerts, the Apple and Grape Festival and the RSL.

"I loved teaching children,” she said.

As she was still so young, classes had to be fitted around Heather's school times and she taught after school on Tuesday, Thursday and all day Saturday.

Then there were classes for keen students at Ballandean to fit in as well.

Starting dancing herself while still small, Heather was taught by Beatrice Thompson, who is now 93 years old and lives in a nursing home on the Gold Coast.

"Dad's from Scotland and I was always moving around, pointing my toes and everything,” she said.

Highland Gatherings were popular and every month there was one in the local area.

She pulls out a photo from 1951, where Heather is sitting at centre. Perhaps the arrangement was chosen on purpose as Heather and the girl next to her, Wendy Plant were the two leading dancers of the time.

"Either she won or I won,” said Heather.

At the time, Agnes and Jack Boucher produced pantomimes at the old Recreation Hall which is now at Storm King Dam.

Both Heather and Wendy also did tap dancing and they featured in many shows, including Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Sleeping Beauty.

With her striking dark eyes and elegant features, Heather was also asked to model in fashion parades.

From the ages of 15 to 19 years old, she worked at Simcocks Newsagency and in 1958, married Peter Wilmot.

After having three children, Brian, Kevin and Joanne, the pair separated.

Heather settled down with Michael 'Sno' Ryan, a relationship that lasted thirty-five years until he passed away in 2013. The pair loved dancing, although this time it was old-time rather than highland.

Even though Heather had stopped teaching years before, in 2014, Alan McLean was looking for somebody in Stanthorpe to teach him old-time dancing.

Coincidently, he shared Heather's maiden name and when the two married in 2016, she was a McLean once again.

Now, with his teacher as his partner, the two danced at the RSL every Friday night.

And Alan also had something to teach Heather and at the age of 76, she learnt to swim.

They travelled happily through New South Wales and New Zealand but sadly, Alan died less than a year after their wedding.

"He was my shadow,” she said.

"We had a lot in common.”

Heather also inducted two of her grandchildren, Sarah and Jessica into highland dancing and she has high hopes that her great-grandaughter, three-year old Lilly may follow in her soft shoes.

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