The Creative Edge

Kearsney Smith began dancing at the age of five and competing professionally at the age of ten. She won her first South African Championship in 1999 at the age of eleven, and then again in 2000, 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2010. She has competed in Scotland and Canada since the age of ten, placing at the World Highland Dancing Championships three times. Her creative contributions are a core component of the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts in Summerside, PEI.

What is your own ethnic heritage/background?
I was born and raised in South Africa. Although my parents are South African, both their ancestors arrived in South Africa from Scotland, Ireland and England between 1900 and 1920.

How long have you been involved with the college and in what capacity?
I have been working as the Highland Dance Instructor at the College since March 2011. My role is to run the Highland Dance program, run and organize the dance competition at the Summerside Highland Games and lead the choreographing for our summer production, Highland Storm.

What are the challenges of the job?
There are few challenges when you’re able to do what you love every day. However, around June every year it’s probably the most stressful with the year-end recital, the Highland Games and the rehearsals for Highland Storm all in one month. Apart from that, there aren’t many challenges.

What are the rewards?
The rewards definitely come from the kids. When you see how much time and effort they put in to their dancing, it’s always wonderful to see them succeed in competition, in medal tests and in any other goal they may have. Other rewards are seeing the enjoyment crowds get from Highland Storm and the Highland Games. It definitely makes it all worthwhile.

What can attendees expect to experience during this year’s Highland Gathering?
There is something for everyone! I know the kids love dancing; we have both Highland and Step! People can look forward to seeing top-class bands competing from all over Canada as well as the awesome show all bands put on together at the massed bands (which will this year be joined by the massed highland dancers!). There is great live entertainment both in the amphitheater and tent, lots of activities for the families, great food, and great atmosphere – the list goes on and on. The question really is: What CAN’T attendees expect to experience during this year’s Highland Gathering?

What can they expect during the run of Highland Storm?
This year is really exciting for both cast and crew! We have Ryan MacNeil of The Barra MacNeils directing which means, of course, great music put on by College students in an ALL NEW show! This will be accompanied by the dancers of Highland and Step in ALL NEW choreography. The bottom line? Highland Storm will be an ALL NEW show put on by talented musicians and dancers from around the Island – it’s definitely not to be missed!

Are young people still interested in Celtic culture?
Coming from a country where Celtic culture is almost dead, I definitely think there is a great interest in the culture amongst young people here. Canada has some of the best Highland dancers in the world, with probably the biggest amount of dancers as well. There is an enormous amount of Step dancers around the country too; just look at the long enrollment list we have here at the College. Although there can always be more interest in the Celtic culture, I definitely think that there is still interest coming from young people.

Are we doing enough to preserve and promote Celtic culture?  
What’s enough? More can always be done to preserve and promote a culture. There’s nothing better than showing off the Celtic culture and having people come up to you and ask you questions about it afterwards. Highland Storm is a prime example! I have had a lot of students enroll this year because of last year’s Highland Storm. The job doesn’t end there, though. It’s up to us, who have made it our life to go out and continue promoting it. The Maritimes are fortunate to have such establishments like the Gaelic College and this one where people can come in and learn various different disciplines of the Celtic culture so that they can also, in turn, keeping “preserving and promoting”.

The College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts kicks-of its annual Highland Gathering tonight. Details are available online at