The 18th Annual New York Tartan Parade saw thousands of people descend on Manhattan’s Avenue of the Americas last Saturday (April 9th) – and one of the Western Isles' own award-winning Highland dancers was among them.
Claire Wilson, who teaches at Stornoway Primary School and runs the Claire Wilson School of Dance, joined New York City’s premier dance group, Shot of Scotch, as they danced their way through Manhattan’s streets alongside TV celebrities, American pipe bands, and even Barbour-clad Scottie dogs.
“It’s exciting to be involved in such a big event,” Claire told welovestornoway.com before the parade kicked off. “I've been doing Highland dancing since I was three - the same steps, movements, dances - and it's amazing that you can join with any other dancer from around the world and you are instantly united and can dance the same steps.”
To prepare for the big day, Claire and her American counterparts were sharing videos and collaborating on choreography over Skype and social media. “We’re doing choreography down the parade, Highland steps that we’ve mixed up to make it more progressive because most of the dancing’s done on the spot, so we’ll be able to dance and move at the same time.”
In fact, it was through social media that Claire got involved with New York City's Tartan Week in the first place. Knowing she would be in New York on holiday to celebrate her mother’s birthday, Claire reached out to one of the dancers involved, Kendra Munro, on Instagram. “I had just mentioned that I was coming over here, and would there be an opportunity to dance or to meet up with her, and she invited me in, and that was that!”
And it wasn’t only the parade that Claire performed in; she was also asked to dance at a ceilidh hosted by the prestigious New York Caledonian Club, established in 1856, and at a Clan Currie event on Ellis Island, famous for the millions of immigrants who passed through on their way to a new life in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century.
“You’re dancing in the moment, doing the same movements you always do and then you catch your surroundings and you think, ‘Hey wait, there’s the Statue of Liberty!’ and think how amazing it is to be dancing then and there,” said Claire of her New York dancing experience. “It's a very American thing to say about Ellis Island, but it was also great dancing where my ancestors, the Alcorn's, would have first arrived into America.”
New York City is just the latest in the long list of locations Claire has danced and competed in around the world, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and even Iraq. She set up the Claire Wilson School of Dance in 2012, after joining the Lynn Maclean School of Dancing when she moved to Lewis from Dunoon in 2005, and she now teaches 40 dancers in Harris and Ness.
“I like to do something new every year with the dancing, to try and promote to the girls that although they live on an island, it doesn’t make them isolated, and it just shows them what they can do with the skills that they’ve got, and where it can get them.”
When it comes to the costs involved for her students travelling to dancing competitions on the mainland, Claire - who won her first championship at just eight years old - explained that she “wants to show them that it does pay out eventually, the opportunities that open up to you.”
“Whenever I go to a country, one of the first things I look up are the dance teachers and the Highland dancers that live there, and I get in touch with them, and you’ve got an instant friendship and an instant bond, all over the world. I want to thank Clan Currie, and also Shot of Scotch NYC, for the fantastic opportunity to dance for and with them over the past few days.”
After her Big Apple adventure, Claire is now “looking forward to hosting our next workshop with Rachel McLagan” who, having also danced in Tartan Week and choreographed the New York Tattoo, will be giving island dance students “the opportunity to learn from more World Champion Highland dancers in July."