Scottish Highland Dancing is a sport as well as an art. Competing in one dance has been compared to running an 800-meter sprint with your arms held in the air, while leaping, turning, smiling and wearing a heavy woolen kilt.
The final product is graceful, precise and easily gets an observer’s foot tapping.
Not to be mistaken for Riverdance-style Irish step dancing, Highland is more like a combination of Riverdance and ballet.
Elizabeth Coyle teaches the dance in the basement of her Spokane Valley home. She has been a dancer all her life and has made it her mission to share her knowledge. She had a large dance studio in Renfrew, Scotland, and brought her expertise to the Valley 20 years ago.
“It sounds kind of funny now,” Coyle said as she looked out at the frigid afternoon, “but we moved here for the weather. We got tired of 70 to 80 mile an hour gales, which were quite common in Scotland. My mother had friends here a long time ago.”
On a 16-by-20-foot raised plywood floor built by her husband, Frank, she teaches children the art of Highland Dancing. Many of her students are of Scottish descent.
Katie McLeod, a West Valley freshman and member of the school’s dance team, has been studying under Coyle for about five years. She has taken jazz and tap classes but quit in favor of the Highland Dance.
“I’m a different kind of person,” she said, “and this is more fun.”
McLeod’s cousin, Meaghan Palmer, 8, has been with the Spokane Valley Highland Dancers for 3½ years. Her interest started when she was 3 , from her booster seat, she would watch her cousin practice and perform. She is presently the U.S. Interregional champion in the 11-under age group of Highland Dancers, and she is the youngest to win that award. Both girls have been to Scotland to watch the dance as well as to compete.
University High school senior Heather MacCallum has been with Coyle for seven years. “It’s my life,” she said, “I take breaks for soccer and track and field, but I always come back to this.”
Coyle’s students compete all over the Northwest and Canada, while some go on to Scotland. The group has a nonprofit fund to help kids go to the competitions.
The Spokane Valley Highland Dancers have performed at area venues including Valleyfest, First Night and in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and are eager to dance at more events.
Highland Dancing started as a victory celebration with ancient warriors and clansmen dancing around shields and crossing swords. Only performed by men until the early 1900s, it has moved from ritual and exercise to entertainment and competition.
Now those victory celebrations have become personal victories for scores of Coyle’s dancers, who have earned ribbons, plaques, medals, trophies and applause.
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