For Coquitlam, British Columbia native Fiona Lee, Highland dancing is a family affair.
“Both of my parents were Highland dancers when they were young, and I began dancing at the age of four,” shares the 25 year-old via email.
That lineage runs deep. Lee’s father has a lengthy list of accomplishments, and was once presented a dancing award at the Braemar Highland Games by none other than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. As well, Lee’s great Aunt, Adeline Duncan, was a very well known teacher and adjudicator, and Duncan’s daughter, Heather Jolley, is Lee’s dance teacher.
Lee has not only carried on that family pedigree, she has even grown it – winning over 75 championships, including the 2007 World Juniors.
That accomplishment, she says, was her ultimate career highlight.
“This was a lifelong dream of mine, and something that Highland dancers work towards and strive for year after year.”
The ancient sport has afforded her many other rewarding experiences also.
“The Canadian Championships take place in a different province every year, and I have had the privilege of representing the province of British Columbia more than fifteen times.
“I am still dancing partially because of my background,” she adds, “but more so because of the great friends that I have made over the years. Another benefit of highland dancing is that it keeps me in great physical condition, and offers me the opportunity to travel.”
In addition to performing across Canada, Lee has graced many of the world’s famous stages (alongside BC’s Simon Fraser University Pipe Band), including the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow, and the Lincoln Centre in New York.
Of course, like any sport, Highland dancing is not without its risks and challenges.
“I have been lucky enough not to have had any serious injuries,” she says, “but I once had to miss an entire year of dancing due to a foot injury.”
Though she believes that more can be done to promote and preserve Celtic culture, Lee does what she can to carry on the heritage. She is currently a member of the British Association of Teachers of Dancing, the Scottish Dance Teachers Alliance, and ScotDance Canada. As well, she teaches Highland dance classes at Simon Fraser University, which are open to both members of the educational facility and the general public. She is also an instructor at the Heather Jolley School of Highland Dance, which performs at various local, regional, national and international functions and events throughout the year.
To better support Celtic culture, Lee suggests that Scottish organizations pick up on the popularity of the television program Outlander, a series set in Scotland during the mid-1700s.
“The show is great, and should generate some overall interest in Scottish cultural activities.”
And while she acknowledges that the number of competitive dancers seems to have gotten lower in recent years, Lee says there is still an overall allure to the sport.
“Young people continue to show an interest in Highland dancing, especially if they have family members or friends that are involved in the Scottish community. There still seems to be a lot of additional interest from dancers who just enjoy doing recreational Highland dancing, such as choreographies and concert appearances.”
Competitive dancing isn’t for everyone – Lee admits it’s an expensive hobby. There is also an abundance of other available activities for young people. Still, she is resolved to remain involved with the activity and to carry on the tradition.
“I will continue to teach highland dance for many years to come,” she says. “I am still competing at a high level, and I still enjoy traveling to various events, including this summer’s ScotDance Championship Series in London, Ontario.
“And, who knows, maybe one day I will be able to pass that passion along to my own children.”