MacCulloch Dancers in Hungary
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.”
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...