storyNova Scotia’s Celtic community will gather in the provincial capital tonight for the first annual Halifax Ceilidh, featuring traditional music and dance. Recently we spoke with co-organizer Marielle Lesperance about what audiences can expect.

How did this event come about?
Change of Step aims to show the general public how beautiful and inspiring world class highland dancing can be. Since there are few professional highland dance companies in the world, many people haven’t been exposed to modern highland dance without traditional kilt outfits and to Celtic music other than the highland bagpipes. Our steps are contemporary yet rooted in tradition, and audience response to our performances has been extremely positive. The encouragement of our audiences drove us to organize two ceilidhs featuring Change of Step, and we are so glad we did! Our first ceilidh, the “Ottawa City Ceilidh” held at the end of April, featured several talented local musicians and to our delight was a sold out show. Our “Halifax Ceilidh” on June 11th is our second ceilidh and we hope it will be just as successful.

What is the event’s mandate?
The mandate of this event is in line with the mission of our dance company, which is to promote highland dancing by showcasing its beauty, strength and musicality. Currently, top level highland dancers tend to focus on competition, as there aren’t many opportunities to highland dance as a career. We want to provide such an opportunity for ourselves, and to show the younger generation of highland dancers that it’s possible to continue dancing and share your passion for dance outside of the competitive circuit.

Who is involved?
Our “Halifax Ceilidh” will feature 5 of our dancers (including 2 who currently reside in Ontario): myself, Kayleigh Jean Armstrong, Holly Arsenault, Janine Lesperance and Chantal Watt. We are incredibly fortunate to have live musical accompaniment by the World renowned Beatons sisters’ Band: Dawn and Margie Beaton, Mac Morin, and Kenneth MacKenzie, and by Alex Gandy. Our musicians all have impressive lists of accolades, but most importantly, their music is what inspires us to dance. Our event would also not be possible without David Rankin (our MC for the night), our volunteers and the generous support of our sponsors; The Scots Society, Celtic Life International, and Points East Audio Visual Inc.

What are the challenges of putting it together?
Our two ceilidhs have been the first events we have organized ourselves, and as such there has been a lot to learn. We have had to research all aspects of planning and hosting a music and dance production. Through perseverance, teamwork and the help of dedicated musicians, volunteers, friends and family, we have already managed to host a very successful first event. Although it has been a challenge for us, we have learned a lot and have gained confidence in our ability as performers and as event planners too!

What are the rewards?
Getting to dance to our favourite musicians live rather than on a recording (it makes for a much more lively and entertaining show and is more fun for us!), getting to feed off of the energy of the crowd (one of my favourite compliments we’ve received was from a man who told us before our performance that he “hated highland dancing” and then made a point of coming back after our performance to tell us that he “LOVED it” and “couldn’t believe that highland dancing could look like that”), hearing parents tell us that their highland dancing children watch our YouTube videos and are inspired, and feeling like we have done justice to our art form and to Scottish/Gaelic culture.

What can audiences expect?
They can expect a lively night full of Celtic fiddle, bagpipes, piano, highland dance and a bit of Cape Breton style step dance for good measure! Our MC will also share some Gaelic stories and songs along the way.

Will this be an annual event?
We hope so! We had many people asking us the same question after how much they enjoyed our “Ottawa City Ceilidh”!

From your perspective, are young people still interested in Celtic dance?
Myself, and most of the other members of Change of Step are involved in teaching highland dance. Through my experience teaching, those who are in highland dancing are still very passionate about it. That being said, the has been a decline in children taking up highland dancing in the past few years, possibly due to a lack of exposure to it. Other forms of dance are featured regularly on TV and in stage productions, and that makes kids more likely to pursue the forms of dance that they are familiar with. By putting highland dancing in the spotlight, we hope to inspire the next generation of highland dancers to be passionate about this very special form of dance.