Dancing Down South!

A litter of lucky young dancers from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia are in the Caribbean this week as part of Celtic Festival Barbados. Celtic Life International spoke with Michelle MacKenzie, Director of the Celtic Fusion Dance Troupe/MacKenzie School of Dance, about her troupe and the trip down south.

What is your own heritage/ethnic background?
I am Scottish. I was born and grew up in Cape Breton. Both my parents are from Scottish descent. My mother actually spoke Gaelic before learning English. I started taking Highland Dance lessons at the age of three. I also took Gaelic language and bagpipe lessons. I played in the Gaelic College pipe band when I was very young but my passion was dancing. I competed all over Canada, winning hundreds of medals and trophies. I also took medal tests every year with an examiner from the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing in Scotland. Upon completion of all levels, I studied for and obtained my dance teachers license.

How and when did you get involved with the MacKenzie School of Dance?
In 1996, after graduating from Acadia University, I moved to Yarmouth where I saw a need for dance instruction, as well as an interest in Celtic Culture. Shortly thereafter I began MacKenzie School of Dance, offering instruction in Highland, Step and Celtic Choreography.

What is the facility’s core agenda/mandate?
Our mandate is to promote awareness of Celtic Culture(especially in an area where not much is known about Celtic Culture due to most  residents being from an Acadian background), offer quality instruction in a positive, creative learning environment, and to encourage and develop physical fitness and positive values in young girls

Who are your students?
There is a wide range of students from age three – adult, beginner to professional levels. many of whom come from a French background. It’s wonderful to see so many Saulnier’s, d’Entremont’s, Cottreau’s , Boudreau’s, Surettes, etc. wearing kilts and other Celtic costumes. In addition to French, there are students from many other countries such as Peru, Dubai, Egypt, etc. who are very much involved with our school. These students have the opportunity to learn about and explore a culture steeped with tradition and different from their own. Our troupe is aptly names Celtic Fusion – a blend of Celtic culture with multi cultural descendants.

What kinds of events have you been involved with this year?
We have had a very busy year, including preparations for our upcoming performances at the Barbados Celtic Festival; a Celtic Christmas Show; our Celtic Ceilidh Extravaganza which is coming up on June 24 at the Mariners Centre – showcasing dance routines by all ages and levels….along with a piper (this event usually attracts about 800 spectators); as well as countless local performances throughout the year for weddings, conventions, concerts, fundraisers, seniors home performances, exhibitions, competitions, etc.

How did you get involved with the Barbados festival?
While researching Celtic festivals and events I came across information on the Barbados Celtic Festival. After auditioning, we were invited by the organizer, Carol Anderson, to perform at this year’s festival. We quickly accepted the offer and for the last 6 months have been preparing and perfecting our routines. The festival offers an amazing cultural experience, which will provide my dancers with a wonderful opportunity to immerse themselves in Celtic culture by meeting and performing with entertainers, chefs and spectators from all over the world who have a special interest/ties to Celtic life. In addition to performances at various venues, we will be doing a demonstration at a local school (CodringtonSchool) while at the same time learning more about the way of life in Barbados, with its many facets of people. As part of the learning experience and development for dancers at my school, I believe that it’s important to travel and perform in other parts of the world. Travel is such a great education. We have danced at Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World; the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland; and at the Hawaii Highland Games &Scottish Festival in Waikiki, where our dancers won an International Choreography Competition. This was quite an achievement as we were competing against groups from Scotland and places all over the world. I am a firm believer in Mark Twain’squote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth, all one’s lifetime.”

What are your plans for the facility in the years to come?
We plan to continue developing quality dancers while educating about Celtic Culture. Performances in other countries, as well as competitions are very much part of the future! There’s so much to learn, develop, perfect and explore about Celtic dance, and Celtic culture in general. The possibilities are not only exciting but endless.

Are younger people still interested in Celtic dance?
Absolutely! Every year extra classes are added into the program to accommodate the demand from children of all ages – Preschool through to teens.

In your opinion, is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture today?
No, in my opinion, Celtic culture needs a lot more publicity. Many aspects of the culture such as language and traditions seem to be dying off. If a poll/survey was conducted I’m sure very few people would be able to answer a question such as “What is a milling frolic?” Also, Celtic language, dance and music somehow needs to be exposed to and readily available to more of the younger generations so that our traditions are not lost.

What can we being doing better?
The culture needs to be promoted more in the smaller areas, as well as in the larger cities. It would be wonderful to have more sponsorship/grants available for Cultural learning experiences. To make our performance at the Barbados Celtic Festival a reality for many of the dancers, we had to do substantial fundraising in our little town. The support we received was overwhelming and as a result, all the dancers can afford to go.