Scottish dancers step up at Highland event

Case Santa Maria of Decatur, Ga. dances during a competition Saturday at the 36th Charleston Scottish Games and Highland Gathering at Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant. The 5-year-old was at the event with his mother Heidi Santa Maria.

Competition proves rigorous for steppers of varying ages, skill

They made it look so easy.

But while the Highland dancers competing at the Charleston Scottish Games and Highland Gathering on Saturday pranced and bounced across the platform with poise, most were panting when they finished each round.

That is because Highland dancing is quite athletic and involves quick taps, cross steps and leaps — all on the balls of the feet.

"It's really good exercise and a lot of fun," said Gillian Warrington, 13, of Virginia Beach, Va. She was a participant in the beginner level of the competition and has been dancing for the past three years.

Gillian travels to a handful of similar competitions up and down the East Coast. She said it takes a lot of discipline and agility to impress judges.

"Things have to be, like, really precise," Gillian said.

About 45 competitors, ranging in age from 5 to 30, danced at Saturday's event. They competed in various divisions based on age and experience, but all danced to bagpipe music.

Those considered premier dancers competed for cash prizes.

Most of the dancers were from Southeastern states, though none were from the Charleston area.

Highland dancing organizer Anne Andrews said some competitors had traveled from as far as Canada and Michigan.

Andrews has been teaching Highland dancing in North Carolina for the past 40 years. She said the folk dance is a lot like modern ballet and that it is critical for dancers to perfect their technical skills.

"Every beat of music is a position," Andrews said as she turned out her feet at 45-degree angles to demonstrate.

Highland dancers try to elevate themselves as high off the floor as they can so that it is easier to spring up and regain balance.

"They look so nimble," Jean Marie Place of Columbia said as she watched in amazement while three girls performed.

Jenny Mason of Mount Pleasant was tickled by the younger dancers. "They're cute," she said as she watched alongside her husband, Mark, and their two children, Athena, 13, and Cyrus, 8.

This was the 36th year that the Scottish Society of Charleston and Boone Hall Plantation hosted the popular event to expose the public to Celtic culture and Scottish traditions. There were piping and drumming exhibitions, Scottish fiddling, children's games, Border collie demonstrations and a numerous vendors selling traditional Scottish gear and food.

The local event is one of the longest running Scottish games in the region and draws thousands of people to the Lowcountry each year.

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Charleston recieves a portion of the proceeds.