Cindy Kimove had been highland dancing most of her life, but when she started taking ballet classes in high school she quickly noticed a change in the physical appearance of her legs. The ballet exercises formed new muscles that gave her more flexibility, endurance and strength to better execute highland steps. She could jump higher, hold positions longer and her extensions became more turned out and controlled.
“It was a direct result of the time I had spent strengthening at the barre,” the champion dancer said. “My legs were getting stronger in places that you don’t work in highland, so it was helpful because I could rely on muscles that I didn’t have before. That’s when I started thinking about how ballet is beneficial for other forms of dance. I already knew that, but I’d never really applied to it highland.”
Kimove is one of Canada’s premiere highland dancers. She is a member of the Scottish Dance Company of Canada and is the current New Brunswick provincial adult champion. She has placed in the top ten at the World Highland Dance Championships in Scotland and has danced on New York’s Broadway.
Now, the 22-year-old has designed a class that teaches advanced highland dancers ballet moves that improve their ability to execute traditional highland steps. Kimove believes that practising ballet exercises gives highland dancers an edge in competitions.
“I took the structure of a ballet class and the structure of ballet barre exercises, but altered the height of the leg or changed movements around so they applied more to highland dancers than ballet,” she said from her home in Fredericton on Canada’s east coast where she teaches and dances at the Barbara Murray School of Highland Dance and studies at St. Thomas University.
“Some movements in ballet are actually the opposite of what we do in highland. Doing the opposite is helpful because you’re working both sets of muscle groups, not just one.”
One of her students, Nicole Odo, winner of the Commonwealth Championship in Scotland last summer, said Kimove’s class has improved the flexibility in her hips, giving her the strength to keep them turned out.
“I find in highland we’re always working the same muscles over and over, but ballet will work muscles that we don’t focus on as much so it’s like cross-training,” she said. “I’ve always been flexible, but now I can hold up better because I have strength in different parts of my legs.”
Odo is also enjoying the freedom that ballet moves allow a dancer, as opposed to the rigid traditional steps in highland.
Kimove said her class, which she believes is unique, not only improves her students’ traditional highland dance movements, but adds ballet to their repertoires for choreography competitions. She encourages her students to experiment.
“Highland dancing has really rigid arm movements and ballet is very soft and flowing, so a lot of dancers have never moved their arms in this way before, so they’re getting used to using different space in their bodies. Many of them become more graceful dancers and they can apply that to choreography. You have to be continuously moving in ballet, and that’s a new concept for highland dancers, because everything is sharp and you land in that spot at that time and that’s it and you hold it there, so it’s different and it expands what they can do.”
Combining ballet with highland dance has increased her joy in dance.
“Adding ballet and modern dance allows me to fly across the stage,” she said, “And I’m teaching my students to do that as well.”
By Amy MacKenzie