Island Dancers wow internationally

Eleven hugely talented Hebridean Highland Dancers from the Claire Wilson and Lynn Maclean Schools of Dance topped off their successful competitive year to travel to Belgium to compete in the Internationale Taptoe Belgie.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 17th January 2017, 6:17 am

Dancers from Lewis, Harris and Uist took to the international stage alongside other dancers from as far afield as New Zealand, alongside many European nations, for the competitions which took place at the the Sleuyter Arena in Oostende and at the Soeverein Arena in Lommel.

The Tattoo began as the Antwerp Tattoo in 2012, moving to Lommel in 2013 and took on the new identity of Internationale Taptoe België. Though relatively new, the Tattoo boasts hosting some of the top Military Bands from across Europe and the United Kingdom and plays host to Pipe Bands from Canada, UK and Europe.

After 2014 the audience numbers had grown so much, that another Belgian city, Oostende, was added to the programme. Previously, highland dancers had taken part as a dance item inside the massed bands section of the show, but as of 2015 the dancers have created their own show and displayed their own unique performances.

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The 2016 Internationale Taptoe België celebrated its fifth consecutive year by doubling its dance team from 43 to 86 members.  

They performed alongside musicians from Belgium, Ukraine, Sweden and Turkey and performed to sell out crowds across the three days, 3000 members in Oostende and 6000 in Lommel.

Rehearsal time was intense and directed by Crystel Benton, Dance Teacher, Choreographer and Performer at Dutch Pipes and Drums.  Learning the routines remotely was challenging and a completely different way of learning for the girls.  Facebook, online videos and instructions helped them to master the steps before they left so all they then had to do was learn the positioning with the other dancers. 

It just shows what you can do when you have the technology in place.  Trying to piece the choreography together meant long hours outside rehearsing in any available space to ensure a smooth and high standard of performance and meant that there was not much time for sight seeing.  

However one of the highlights of the trip for the dancers was to try an authentic Belgian waffle for breakfast topped with ice cream and chocolate at a local cafe in Oostende - great fuel for the dancers! 

The dancers performed to music from the hit series Outlander, the well known Lord of the Dance and a spotlight finale piece to the iconic, The Gael. The finale hit home with the dancers regarding the enormity of the event, which combined military pipe and brass bands, flag bearing, fireworks, glittering confetti all to the soundtrack, the Gael, which was highly emotive. 

Dancer Shona MacLellan said: ““This was a great opportunity for the girls to dance at an international tattoo with international dancers, an experience that I enjoyed and found memorable and hope the others did too. 

“It’s good for dancers to dance with others in a big performance other than just dance in competitions as they have to work as a team, which they did.  

“I’m very proud to have been part of that team and proud of the way the girls conducted themselves and represented the Western Isles in a positive manner.”

The dancers were a credit to their dance teachers. Their dance etiquette was outstanding.  They all thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, from flying to Belgium, to dancing each night and to meeting the other performers.  

All involved would like to thank all the escorts for the trip and to their seamstress who spent most of time under thousands of outfits for the 86 dancers.