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Brigadoon Dance Academy, specializing in Highland dance, has been holding an annual holiday show since the company was established in 1995. Over 50 dancers are participating in this year’s production, The Brigadoon Express, inspired by the holiday film The Polar Express.
The event features Brigadoon Dance Academy’s own Annalise Lam, who became Junior World Champion in Highland dance at the Cowal Gathering in Dunoon, Scotland, earlier this year. The Brigadoon Express takes place on Dec. 11 at The Port Theatre in Nanaimo, B.C.
The annual holiday show “always puts [the audience] in the Christmas spirit,” said Diena Henry, founder and principal instructor of Brigadoon Dance Academy.
For the dancers, “It just gives them that opportunity to dream and think big and feel special,” said Henry. “They deserve to be up there and getting a round of applause.”
The Brigadoon Express combines traditional Highland dances with new choreography from Henry and guest choreographers, performed by dancers ranging from three to more than 30 years old. The show also includes a narrator and pipe music.
Costuming will add to the festive spirit of the event. One of the beginner classes, Henry said, are “going to be the Christmas angels,” wearing “white tutus with feather halos and beautiful wings.”
Seventeen-year-old Lam plays a central role in the holiday production. Lam, who has been Highland dancing for over 10 years, became a national champion in her age category at the ScotDance Canada Championship Series this past July, then Junior World Champion at Scotland’s Cowal Gathering in August.
“It was really unexpected. I was just more focused on my dancing and my technique than what would happen after,” said Lam about becoming a world champion. “Dancing on that stage just felt like a dream come true.”
It was Lam’s first time competing in the world championship, but “Canada is so strong in Highland dancing,” commented Henry, who was with Lam in Scotland. “She’s always had really, really good competition around her.”
Henry started Highland dancing at age eight and founded Brigadoon Dance Academy in 1995 when she was 19. “My Grandpa Marshall, he used to play the accordion in his kitchen.… I would dance for hours … and I just wanted to jump,” she said. “When my mom saw … she took me to watch Highland dancing, and I just fell in love with it.”
Henry describes Highland dance as both athletic and artistic. “Traditionally, it was a dance performed by men,” she explained. “They used to perform it as a way to tell a story before or after a battle.”
“When the hand is up, it’s acting like a stag,” Henry added. “It’s symbolizing that stag jumping through the forest. We’re grouping our fingers so it looks like the [antlers of the] animal.”
The academy is named after the Brig o’Doon, a bridge in South Ayrshire, Scotland. The area is known for being the birthplace of Robert Burns, a renowned poet who is celebrated internationally on Jan. 25. The annual occasion is a busy time for Brigadoon Dance Academy, whose students perform Highland dance at local legions and nursing homes.
Henry has a strong appreciation for Burns and created a Highland dance piece for his famous song Auld Lang Syne, a piece that has since become a holiday tradition for Brigadoon Dance Academy. “We perform it at the end of our Christmas show every year,” said Henry.
When asked what she loves about the holidays, Henry replied, “I love bringing everyone together.”
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