Heart of the Highlands

With a Scottish brogue as profound as her passion for Highland Dancing, Nova Scotia’s Sandra Hotchkiss is a vital and vibrant voice in the ever-growing genre. Recently we spoke with her about her involvement in the Celtic dance community, and about her business, Heart of the Highlands.

What is your own ethnic background/heritage?
I was born in Greenock, which was once officially the wettest town in Scotland.  Being born with webbed feet is a bonus in our town. I moved to New Brunswick in 1989 with my husband Jim, and our 2 young daughters Ashley & Heather.  We were part of 65 families that came as landed immigrants from the U.K. to work on the frigate programme with Irving Shipbuilding.  Once that contract was over in 1995, we moved to Nova Scotia (Latin for New Scotland – how appropriate is that? with not just 2, but 4 young daughters Ashley, Heather, Lynsey & Fiona.

How, when and why did you get involved with Celtic Dancing?
I was a competitive Highland Dancer ‘back in the day’ in Scotland, and after moving to Nova Scotia, I signed my daughters up for Highland Dance lessons, and that was like leading the proverbial ducks to water, as 16 years later, they are all still dancing; are members of several dance groups and have traveled to Scotland, Cuba, Quebec, Ontario and all over The Maritimes performing and competing.  I have to say that the girls were very fortunate to have been involved with a wonderful dance instructor, Carolyn Spears (based in Halifax).

What inspired you to start your business?
Having 4 daughters involved in Highland Dancing, I thought that it would be a good idea to get into the business of selling some of the supplies.  My original goal was to make enough money to pay for their fees/outfits/travel expenses etc. and here I am, in my 10th year in Business, with a data base of 2500 customers, selling not only Highland Dance, but Irish and Scottish Country Dance supplies too. I operate as an online business & have shipped goods all over the world (apart from Asia – it will be an exciting day when I mail off my first Asian order) I even have customers in Scotland, and I sure do get a kick at sending kilts from New Scotland to the Home Land.

What are your core products and services?
I supply dancers with just about every item they need, and if I don’t have it, I can tell them where to find it.  Ghillies and dance shoes are my biggest sellers, followed by apparel (including kilts/vests/socks etc). I have unsurpassable knowledge of size and fit of dance shoes, so that is my main service to my customers. I also travel all over The Maritimes ‘setting up shop’ at dance shows, schools & competitions; bringing supplies and my services to dancers that would normally have to order online.

Are young people still interested in Celtic Dance?
There are several forms of Celtic Dance: – Highland Dance is very popular here. In The Maritimes, there are 500. Registered Highland dancers in Nova Scotia alone (and these are dancers that compete, there are many more who don’t compete). Irish dancing and also Cape Breton Step dancing are very popular too.  Celtic Dance is not a dying art (well, certainly not in Nova Scotia!)

Are we doing enough to preserve and promote Celtic culture?
I think we are doing a pretty good job of preserving and promoting the culture. Take for instance places like the Gaelic College in the beautiful Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, The College of Piping in Summerside, and The Charitable Irish Society in Halifax, three different organizations that easily spring to mind that preserve and promote Celtic culture in different ways. Plus of course, there’s a lovely magazine called ‘Celtic Life International’ – you may have heard of it.

What can we be doing better?
We live in a social media world now, and the knowledge we can share by using modern day technology is unbelievable and extremely exciting.  We have no excuse for not supporting and promoting Celtic culture. Today’s youngsters are online, so let’s join them and promote a culture that is steeped in history. And if the government would like to introduce Celtic culture into school curriculum, that would be pretty sweet.

What’s next on your creative/business agenda?
My business has grown (and will continue to do so) through my love of Celtic dance, through being helpful and informative and through loving what I do. Our mission here at Heart of the Highlands Dance Supplies is to provide quality of service and competitive prices that are second to none. That mission statement pretty much sums everything up.