When you’re in your early 20s, and you’re getting to the end of your competitive career, many dancers choose to hang up their kilt. However, Amy de Bruin of the Lothian Highland Dance Studio in Whangarei wanted to keep dancing. She also wanted to travel. How to combine the two? Mary-Jo Tohill had a chat with to Amy to find out how she did it…
Amy, 22, works for a hotel in Wellington, and moved down in 2020 during the pandemic. She studied for a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in tourism and information systems at Victoria university.
Like a lot people, particularly the young, their study, interests and travel were disrupted because of Covid-19. For the past three years, Amy has kept up her dancing via zoom lessons. But this year had been particularly tough with shift work, and hard to stay motivated, although she was going to the gym several times a week to keep fit. “Dancing on your own is not a lot of fun and I’d been following several Facebook pages, and came across a tattoo in Belgium. You could audition online.
“I’d been planning a trip for three years, so I figured I’d go for it and if I got in or not, I’d still go.”
This was with the International Tattoo Highland Dance Team which was going to be performing at the Belgium Tattoo (Internationale Taptoe België) at Ostend in Belgium, Europe. The main choreographer was New Zealander Crystel Benton, who will be a familiar to some people. The audition included a championship step fling, a Seann Truibhas and performing a leap step.
Amy got into the team, and was the only kiwi, amongst 32 dancers from around the world, including Australians, Americans, Scots, Canadians and one South African.
They did two items, one based on the reel and another choreographed piece. They danced one item in their own kilts, and were supplied costumes that included a mini kilt and leotard top, for the other.
The team members got a video to learn the dance about three weeks before the tattoo, and a list of steps, and had one zoom get-together.
“When I got there, it was hard to figure out where I was going. We had two days practice to get it right. “I got there on the Thursday. We rehearsed until 8pm-9pm. Then you went to bed, and it was another full day leading up to the show. And then we had two shows. It was an absolute whirlwind. It went so fast.
It was held in a stadium, with a concrete floor and stands up the side, but it was covered and being October (the Northern Hemisphere autumn) that was nice.”
While the dancers paid their own way to get there and were not paid for their performances, the hotel, food and transport were taken care of by the organisers.
“It was so fun. It was definitely go, go, go, and not much time to get sorted. No time for sightseeing but I did get to Bruges (afterwards). But it was the same for everyone. I met some cool dancers, so with 32 dancers, there were some lovely people, so it’s easy to have fun when you’re with good people.”
She would definitely do another tattoo and will be keeping an eye out for the next opportunity. The short time period suited her. “I don’t think I could do Edinburgh (tattoo). I think a month would be too much. I think a week of shows would be ideal.”
She had a few things in her favour; an understanding employer who allowed her to take six weeks off to do her trip, her parents, who had always been great supporters, and relatives in the Netherlands.
“I went over with a suitcase for my dancing stuff that I dropped off with the rellies, and I kept the backpack.”
Apart from looking out for tattoos to do in the next few years, the next thing on her dance horizon is studying for her associate teaching qualification.
“I have done some teaching and really enjoyed it.
“I'm not in it (dancing) to compete, it’s more social for me, but I want to be in that community.”
“We made the decision to go in August 2022.
“Fitness-wise, I did a lot of cross training/pilates/core work, gym classes as well as
normal dance classes/competitions. It was ramped up closer to leaving overseas, aiming to do a championship dance through a day and practicing in my kilt.”
She would recommend every dancer wear their full kilt when preparing for championships to get accustomed to the look and feel.
Encouraged by her results in Australia and feeling good despite the injury, Solai got to Scotland at the beginning of August. Jetlag didn’t affect her too badly, except a motion feeling when dancing. But she was fine after about a week, doing three highland games and three championships leading up to Cowal. She was the only kiwi competing on the circuit.
“We booked Airbnb quite a wee while before we left NZ; it was a bit tricky to get accommodation which suited us especially apartments with a carpark.
“The accommodation for Cowal in Dunoon MUST be booked as soon as you know you are attending the championships as it is hard to find accommodation there. Stirling is a beautiful place with a lot to see and do, although I was dance focused, I found that sightseeing wasn’t my priority.”
Nerves were a big hurdle to overcome, and she tried different remedies to deal with them; “stress less oils, listening to music, trying not to overthink things etc, etc.”
Other things were more easy to adapt to – the food choices were good, reasonable in price and readily available. School work wasn’t too much of an issue as she’d given her teachers plenty of warning.
“I let my school know I was away for nearly six weeks and worked my Year 13 work around this, and they worked with me with what I wanted to achieve.”
Morgan had contacts in Scotland so Solai was able to attend private lessons and premier dance classes with her good friend, teacher Danielle Law.
“I really enjoyed taking part in the dance lessons and made some friends there. We also hired rooms in local community centres in Leith and the Stirling area which we googled to find and they were great.”
Competing in Scotland was “a life changing experience”.
“I had to be more resilient, adapt to different scenarios quite quickly and I made some really great connections and friendships. I definitely could not have done it all without Morgan.
“I unfortunately travelled with a foot injury and feel proud of myself for pushing through, competing and also achieving amazing placings and judges points at all competitions.
“My greatest achievement was dancing on the Cowal stage which was a life dream – what an experience that was.
“It was a time of personal growth, and very challenging.
“I’d love to go back overseas to dance when I’m ready. It’s a little too soon at the moment.
“I am sorting my foot injury out and looking forward to competing in 2024. Some exciting opportunities have arisen from my travels which will soon be announced.”
Her advice to anyone else hoping to go over and compete:
“Take it all in.”