The Sitka Spruce Celtic Dancers
Kristine Fulton arrived in Sitka – 100 miles west of Juneau, 800 miles southeast of Anchorage and 1,000 miles northwest of Seattle – in 2001.
“Dancing has been a very important part of my life since I was five years old,” explains the guiding light behind the Sitka Spruce Celtic Dancers. “From that age on to college I studied ballet, modern and jazz. When I first arrived here, I joined a Russian dance troupe.”
It wasn’t long before Fulton put together the region’s first Celtic dance group, a not-for-profit ensemble which performs several shows in the region each year.
“The reason I started the Sitka Spruce Celtic Dancers was to share some of the Scottish and Irish dances I knew with the children in our community. I have done that, and I currently have around 50 students. The reward for me is working with wonderful dancers, young and old.
“I would say only a small portion of our group actually has Celtic blood. Many of my students are Asian, Native American, or other nationalities. They participate in our group because they enjoy the culture and my program.”
The daughter of a Scots-Irish mother, and a father with Finish and Swedish roots, Fulton was first introduced to Scottish dancing in the 1980s in Juneau.
“I had a boyfriend who played the bagpipes,” she recalls. “The boyfriend is long gone, but as well as introducing me to Scottish dancing, he introduced me to my Scottish husband.”
When she began teaching in Sitka, Fulton initially concentrated on the Celtic dances she was already familiar with.
“With the help of the internet, I expanded the repertoire to include both Scottish and Irish dancing. I purchased instructional CDs, watched videos and put a lot of my own time into creating the Sitka Spruce Celtic Dancers. Since I do have a solid background in dance, it hasn’t been too difficult to learn the dances from these sources.
“I also make 80 per cent of the troupe’s costumes.”
This past winter Fulton delighted her dancers by choreographing a familiar fairytale.
“I retold the story of Cinderella, as if from the Scottish Isles, and all the music and dancing was either Scottish or Irish in origin.”
More recently, she connected with an Irish dance team in Vancouver, BC, that is sending one of its dancers to Sitka to lead a workshop.
“That will be exciting for all of us here.”
Fulton has looked into obtaining her official Celtic dancer certification, but given her isolated location, it does not seem practical.
“There are so many rules, fees and restrictions, and the expenses for us to travel to competitions are prohibitive.”
Located in southeastern Alaska, on the ocean side of Baranof Island and surrounded by the Tongass national forest, Sitka – pop. 8500 – is beautiful, but quite isolated.
“We have only 13 miles of road. All our food, fuel and supplies come by barge or air and are thus, quite expensive. It is a fourteen hour ferry ride to Juneau and a four day ferry ride to Seattle.”
A coast guard station works with the local fishing community, but there is only one air carrier servicing the area, so bargain flights do not exist.
“One of our main industries is health care and that is what brought my family here. My husband and I are both pharmacists and work with the Native Health Consortium. Sitka has a community college, a boarding school, and private schools as well.”
Fulton also plays mandolin, guitar and a little violin, while her husband plies away at the concertina and button box accordion. They both perform with the local musical ensemble, Fishing for Cats.
She believes that the long, cool, wet and dark winters of Sitka are ideal for studying music and performing aggressive physical activity like dance.
“This group is a gift of love, from me to my community, as I do not make any money out of this and I do it for the love of Celtic dance and music.”
Recently, Fulton has been approached to see whether she could add some Chinese dances to her program, and she is considering it.
“I’m not sure how many more years I will keep up this energy but at least two more. Celtic dance gives me great joy, lots of positive energy and keeps our community healthy and happy.”