Kate E. Shaw’s legacy lives on

Former students return to Trail for reunion to celebrate beloved teacher’s 100th birthday

Fond memories of a renowned Trail highland dance teacher now passed, have her legion of students gathering for a cèilidh to honour Kate E. Shaw’s 100th birthday.

By all accounts, Mrs Shaw did not just teach dance. She instilled a work ethic through traditional Scottish culture that transcends generations of Highland dancers near and far.

“It was an honour to be a student of Mrs. Shaw,” says Sherri Ko, now a Victoria-based educator. “She cared greatly about all of her Highland dancers and we all became an extended part of her family.”

Ko danced full time for 13 years, taking part in numerous exhibitions, music festivals, parades and competitions – but the lessons were about more than just footwork.

“She was certainly ahead of herself in terms of the field of sports psychology,” said Ko, recalling Mrs. Shaw’s favourite poem that was read before each competition.

“That provided us inspiration and perspective that it was not about winning,” she explained.

“Whether we received a medal or not, we were all victors if we gave our best. Loving the activity we were involved in honing, was most important.”

Ko and many former students throughout the West Kootenay and from as far away as Regina, Prince George, and the Lower Mainland will visit Trail this weekend and gather for the Kate E. Shaw Highland Dance Reunion Saturday night in the Riverbelle.

Bagpipes will sound tribute, and small piping and drumming performances will liven the venue while accompanying traditional Scottish country dances.

“Mrs. Shaw may be gone but her memory lives on and her talent and lessons we share with the next generation,” said Ko, mentioning her daughter, 20, and 15-year-old son have danced Highland since the age of  five.

“When helping my children practice I often hear Mrs. Shaw’s words and remember her lessons.”

She recalled when her children were younger, Shaw asked Ko’s mom if their style, strengths and weaknesses were like hers or another dancer’s.

“She sent me directions on how to make them even better dancers,” she chuckled, adding,“true commitment.”

The Trail Caledonian Games, renamed the Kate E. Shaw Memorial Competition, kicks off the weekend homage earlier that day, beginning at 9 a.m. in the Cominco gym.

Dancers from B.C. and beyond will lace up their ghillies and pins their tartans for two days of competition, the second event being the Castlegar Highland Games slated for Sunday, 10 a.m. in the Stanley Humphries Secondary School gym.

Besides inspiring countless dancers over 75 years of instructing in Trail, Castlegar, Nelson, Creston and Grand Forks, Mrs. Shaw also shared her talent in the tradition of kilt making.

Mary Elizabeth McAleer’s story with Mrs. Shaw begins in infancy.

McAleer was brought to Trail as the “new baby,” when the dance teacher happened to be visiting the family. Later on, Mrs Shaw, who was active in the Presbyterian Church, became her Sunday school teacher for many years.

While McAleer was never a student of dance, in 1993 her daughter Analisa began highland lessons after Mrs. Shaw saw the little girl imitating the dancers.

Over Shaw’s long career, she made sure anyone who wanted to dance, could. And for those without a costume, Shaw would take needle to thread and sew the tartan herself.

“This was the real start of highland for me,” explained McAleer. “Analisa danced in a kilt borrowed from her for many years.”

In 2002, McAleer decided to make her first kilt, and phone Mrs Shaw to ask for lessons.

“Her response was, ‘of course I can show you, you can hold the needle,” she said.

For about six months, McAleer spent Sunday afternoons learning to sew kilts alongside Mrs Shaw.

“I have fond memories of chatting and working with her,” she said. “I learned that she could make a great kilt and had infinite patience, and I also learned she didn’t need a clock to tell time.”

The women would work the afternoon until suddenly Mrs. Shaw would stop and say it was tea time.

“We would go in the kitchen where she would always have some kind of cookie or sweet and a pot of tea ready,” said McAleer. “And I would look at the clock and discover it was (always) 4:00.”

Since that time, she has taken kilt-making one step further by developing the skill into a full time career.

“Now, because of Mrs. Shaw and a few other people in the highland dance world, I have a wonderful home-based business and I was able to quit my office job a few years ago,” said McAleer, who now lives in Bonnington.

She attends 18 to 20 competitions year round throughout BC and Alberta, and has outfitted dancers from across North America, Australia and New Zealand.

“I have now made more kilts than I can remember,” said McAleer. “And I still think of her every time I sit down to make another.”

Information and tickets are available for the reunion event by contacting Michelle McPeek at 778.868.3508 or by email, mcpeek@telus.net.