MacCul­loch Dancers in Hun­gary

The Glengarry News - - Front Page - BY STEVEN WAR­BUR­TON News Staff

Through no fault of their own, the MacCul­loch Dancers found them­selves late for a pa­rade that took place in Europe last month.

The pop­u­lar Glen­garry-based dance school was in Hun­gary for its an­nual Sum­mer­fest, a mul­ti­cul­tural cel­e­bra­tion that wel­comes dancers from across the world. But on this par­tic­u­lar oc­ca­sion, the dancers were sup­posed to be par­tic­i­pat­ing in a pa­rade but, due to some mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, thought the pa­rade started later than it ac­tu­ally did.

As such, the dancers scram­bled into their bus and started the trek to the town where the pa­rade was hap­pen­ing. On the jour­ney, they ac­tu­ally en­coun­tered the pa­rade in progress. No biggee, though. The driver sim­ply backed the bus into an empty drive­way and the dancers ex­ited and joined the pa­rade.

As Shake­speare said, all’s well that ends well.

This year, Sum­mer­fest ran from Aug. 11-22. The cel­e­bra­tion was shared by three Hun­gar­ian pop­u­la­tion cen­tres – Ráck­eve, Tököl, and the main one, the tongue-twist­ing city of Százhalum­batta. The fes­ti­val it­self fea­tured dancers from Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Hon­duras, In­done­sia, China, Columbia, Poland, Lithua­nia, Mex­ico, Sar­dinia, and other coun­tries too.

It was the sec­ond time the MacCul­loch Dancers at­tended the fes­ti­val; the first time was six years ago. Ev­i­dently, the dancers made quite the im­pres­sion be­cause when it was time to go back home, the fes­ti­val’s or­ga­niz­ers told them that Canada was wel­come “any­time.”

This time around, the MacCul­loch Dancers sent 33 peo­ple over to Hun­gary. Twenty-three of them were dancers (rang­ing in age from 16 to 21.) The rest were di­rec­tors, spouses, and mu­si­cians.

Shortly after their ar­rival, the group went to a ceilidh where the dif­fer­ent per­form­ers did their tra­di­tional dances and then en­cour­aged oth­ers to try them out.

“The Colom­bian dancers would do a dance and then they’d pull the girls up and have them do it,” says Jes­sica Goulet, 35, who teaches dance classes with the MacCul­loch Dancers three nights a week.

She adds that the MacCul­loch Dancers were unique in that they weren’t paired into cou­ples.

“A lot of the coun­tries had folk danc­ing – lots of cou­ples – we were one of the few coun­tries where most of our dancers were women. We were pretty pop­u­lar.”

For the most part, the dancers per­formed ev­ery­day. Some­times they did a half hour show and some­times it was just a brief per­for­mance to tease the crowd. They had one day off. On that day, they went to Bu­dapest, the cap­i­tal city of Hun­gary on the Danube River.

“We did a lot of walk­ing and shop­ping,” says Kristina Beaudette, a 17-year-old MacCul­loch Dancer from Maxville. “I checked my phone and it said we walked 25 kilo­me­tres that day.”

Later, on that very Danube River, sev­eral mem­bers of the MacCul­loch Dancers joined sev­eral other dancers from other coun­tries in an amaz­ing dance cruise.

On the ship, each coun­try was given an op­por­tu­nity to show­case its danc­ing. Ap­par­ently, the ship’s cap­tain warned them not

to jump on the dance floor but, of course, that’s not an in­struc­tion that a dancer can take se­ri­ously.

“We jumped any­way,” con­fesses Kristina.

While in Hun­gary, the group was se­questered in a school. The girls had two class­rooms while the men had another. Later, they dis­cov­ered that the Sar­dinian dancers were also stay­ing there. For many of the MacCul­loch Dancers, the Sar­dini­ans’ very pres­ence was an eye-opener on the danc­ing life.

“They had hot plates in the halls and they were cook­ing on them,” ex­plains Ms. Goulet. “A lot of peo­ple at Sum­mer­fest were on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit; it wasn’t a va­ca­tion to them. We were one of the few groups to have jobs out­side of dance.”

She says that the dances from other coun­tries were fan­tas­tic and at least one of them was quite touch­ing.

“The Hun­gar­i­ans had a group called Cloud­walk­ers, who are men­tally chal­lenged dancers,” she says. “They look at them as gifted. They did a great piece on how peo­ple are so ab­sorbed in their cell phones.”

For their own danc­ing, the MacCul­loch Dancers treated their au­di­ences to both High­land danc­ing and their unique brand of step­danc­ing.

“Our step­dance style is our own,” ex­plains Deb­o­rah Wheeler, daugh­ter of the late Rae MacCul­loch, who founded the school. “It’s dif­fer­ent from Ot­tawa Val­ley and Mar­itime step­danc­ing.”

At one point, the var­i­ous dance troupes wound up in a church. The Cana­dian mu­si­cians (Dar­rel MacLeod, Dave McCormick, Martin Gaudet and Jim McRae of sixmile­cross as well) sang Amaz­ing Grace there a capella. After the service, they went to a hall so they could eat a meal that

had been pre­pared es­pe­cially for them by a whole bunch of vol­un­teers.

In the evenings, the fes­ti­val or­ga­niz­ers had a disco party for the dancers. There were dance com­pe­ti­tions and even pageants. A MacCul­loch dancer, Cassie McDonell, placed fourth in the women’s pageant and Jim Forbes, the group’s piper, placed sec­ond for the men. There was even a dress-up night where the dancers were en­cour­aged to dress in out­ra­geous cos­tumes.

But all in all, Sum­mer­fest was an amaz­ing time for ev­ery­one in­volved.

“I was so proud of my girls,” Mrs. Wheeler said. “They’re friendly with other coun­tries and the whole pur­pose of the trip was to get to know peo­ple from other parts of the world.”

The dancers also got to meet Is­abelle Poupart, Canada’s Am­bas­sador to Hun­gary, who was so im­pressed with the per- for­mance that she got a picture taken with the group and posted it on Twit­ter.

Amanda Hope, 21, was the old­est dancer on the trip. She de­scribed it as the best 10 days of her life.

“It was re­ally life-chang­ing,” she says. “The friend­ships we made with peo­ple around the world are amaz­ing. With ev­ery­thing go­ing on in the world, it was nice to come to­gether as one.”

Her sis­ter, Sarah, 17, agrees.

“The high­light for me was at the end of the open­ing cer­e­monies when all the peo­ple from dif­fer­ent coun­tries were on­stage,” she says.

She adds that she wasn’t stand­ing with her fel­low MacCul­loch Dancers. Ev­ery­one had been bro­ken up so that each per­son was stand­ing among strangers.

“There were fire­works go­ing off and there was feel­ing of unity.”

PHOTOS COUR­TESY OF JES­SICA GOULET

HUN­GAR­IAN SUM­MER­FEST: Here are some im­ages from the MacCul­loch Dancers’ re­cent visit to Hun­gary. At top, dancers, teach­ers, and mu­si­cians pose around a Hello Hun­gary sign. At left, Hai­ley O’Con­nor and Sarah Hope hug a Lithua­nian dancer, Brigita Kavali­auskaité. At right, Kristina Beaudette, a 17-year-old dancer from Maxville, is flanked by fel­low dancers Alyssa Ben­der and Marin Mid­dle­ton, dur­ing an event where she got to be a flag-bearer. For more im­ages from the trip, see the photo gal­leries at www.glen­gar­rynews.ca

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