People enjoy highland dancing for any number of reasons but there is one thing you’ll learn quite quickly if you attend one of the competitions; it is not just dancing.
Almost 50 competitors gathered in Trail for the Trail Caledonian Society’s fall indoor competition, held in the Cominco Gym last Saturday.
Dancers as from as young as four years-old to their mid-teens travelled from around the Kootenays, the Okanagan, and from as far away as Kamloops to compete and be judged in a sport that is a unusual combination of esthetics, form, and athleticism.
The day-long competition is one of two annual competitions, held in Trail in spring and fall, by the Caledonian Society which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, making it one of the city’s oldest institutions.
A surprising aspect of the Highland Dance competition is the strict nature of the rules around the contest. No camera flashes are allowed, no one can approach the judges while the dancers are going through their routines, and the competitors are judged on their costumes as well as the height of their jumps and accuracy of their footwork.
The swords placed crosswise on the floor over which the dancers perform their routines are there for more than just show as well.
“It’s very competitive,” said Jen Glowa, one of the competition’s organizers and a parent of two of the dancers.
“If they touch the swords they’re immediately disqualified and you lose points even if your socks slip down a bit or one your shoes comes undone.”
If the form and costumes aren’t enough to take into consideration, the physical demands of the dancing should not be underestimated.
Analisa McAleer was at the competition with her mother, Mary Elizabeth, who owns McAleer’s Highland Gear, a Highland Dance clothing and accessories vendor who travels to competitions around the province and into Alberta.
The younger McAleer began dancing at three years-old, began competing at five, and continued until she was 16.
“They say that performing a six-step fling is equivalent to running a mile,” she said. “But I loved it, I kept dancing until my knees gave out.”
McAleer said that the main thing that kept her competing for so long was the camaraderie and apparently the dedication to the sport continues even after competing.
“We travel to competitions all over and I still run into friends I competed with,” She said. “It’s crazy. I see people I haven’t seen in 10 years at some of these.”
For Chris Piva, who danced for 20 years and who now teaches at the Katie Shaw School of Dance, it was more than just the competition that kept her involved in the sport.
“I just loved to dance,” Piva said. “Katie inspired the love of dance in me and it never left. That and as a kid, you get to travel extensively, there are lots of competitions.”
At the lunch break the morning’s competitors received their awards before getting a break to prepare for the continuing dancing in the afternoon.
Five year-old, Jordan Peace, from Kamloops, joined her family in the stands, beaming as she showed off her silver and bronze medals she had already won that day.
When asked what she liked about highland dancing she paused, looking at the floor with a bit of a frown of concentration. Then she looked back up with her smile returning.
“I like it because it makes my muscles strong,” she said. Then she turned and happily skipped away to collect her lunch.