New Highland dance group providing local opportunities

Formed last summer, the Prairie Thistle Highland Dance Association is a collaboration of dance teachers, parents and volunteers seeking to promote the activity in Brandon.

Like being Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is a little bit Scottish at times, aren’t they?

A new dance organization in the city thinks so.

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The Prairie Thistle Highland Dance Association (PTHDA) is filling a void once covered by a provincial organization that provided competition opportunities in Brandon for young dancers. Established last summer, the association’s first year of operation began on Sept. 1 and currently hosts about 40 dancers between the ages of four and 22.

Shona McHarg, a PTHDA teacher and events coordinator, said the new association is a collaboration between four teachers who wanted to join forces for fundraising and competitive event development.

“For the longest time, I would always coordinate fundraising (for dance groups) and felt that by being more collaborative with other teachers, we could develop a dance association to share those duties,” said McHarg. “If I did that by myself, I couldn’t run and host local competitions. That’s where we evolved from; coordinating performances, fundraising and hosting competitions locally by giving dance schools an opportunity to collaborate together.”

The PTHDA will host its inaugural Spring Open Competition on Saturday at the Brandon Ukrainian Reading Hall on Assiniboine Avenue. Dancing begins at 10 a.m. with a workshop to follow the competition. All 60 available entries have been filled, showing there is demand for this type of activity in the Westman Region.

“We’ll have dancers from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. We’re very happy about that,” McHarg said, adding that 25 local and area dancers will be participating.

Although other, similar events may host up to 100 participants, the PTHDA decided to start small and grow as they get organized. This conservative approach allows the organization to maintain costs associated with the competition and gives less experienced volunteers an opportunity to learn how such an event works.

“We don’t want to be flashy, flashy, flashy and hire three judges and rent a huge venue,” said McHarg. “No. We’re going to hire one judge and rent one venue. It makes the competition a manageable size for us because a lot of our volunteers have only been to dance competitions once or twice. That’s what happens when you’re starting something. You have to be new at some point, so we decided to make the first one manageable.”

Prairie Thistle will host it’s second competition on July 13 in Onanole, Man. That event will be open to 80 entries.

However, the services provided by PTHDA are not all about competition opportunities. The organization also wants to promote Highland dance as another option for youth who may want to just learn the moves and perform recreationally.

“We hope that by promoting it and doing more performances, people will realize that Highland dancing is still a thing and alive and well,” said McHarg. “Also, by hosting competitions, members won’t have to travel so far for events. It encourages people who don’t want to travel to compete and their standards will rise. It gives people goals and motivates local recreational dancers to participate.”

After teaching dance for 10 years, McHarg says the number of youth involved in Highland dance ebbs and flows. Some years, the activity will be popular, holding the number of dancers from one season to the next and adding a few more. Other years, there are less registrants and a few dancers fall away.

“I think the association will be good for that, though, because we have more collaboration and opportunities to perform and compete locally,” she said. “Hopefully, it brings a higher standard of dancing, but also develops more interest. People who bring their children in for certain forms of dance may not know it is available. Making people aware that it’s still around is a big part of (the formation of the association).”

The PTHDA roster of teachers includes McHarg, two instructors who work with her and another from Winnipeg.

“Considering it’s our first year, I think that’s wonderful,” McHarg said.

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