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Dance company with deep Antigonish ties showcases Highland dancing

Members of the Change of Step Highland Dance Company shown during a performance. Contributed
Members of the Change of Step Highland Dance Company shown during a performance. Contributed - Corey LeBlanc

They share a vision – ‘to breathe new life into traditional Highland dancing.’    

That’s one of the goals of the Change of Step Highland Dance Company.    

“We have a long history together – we have known each other since we were little girls. We formed a really great friendship over that period of time,” company member Holly Arsenault said, noting they also competed against each other over the years.    

Along with Arsenault, Change of Step includes Jenny MacKenzie, Marielle Lespérance, Janine Lespérance, Chantal Watt and Kayleigh Jean (Macdonald) Armstrong.    

The highly-accomplished Highland dancers – familiar faces for many years at the annual Antigonish Highland Games – have garnered several accolades, including a six-time world champion and world runners-up, along with current and former Canadian champions.    

“It, sort of, created an opportunity for us to continue that passion for Highland dancing and to share that with a wider audience on stage,” Arsenault said, when asked about the beginnings of the company in 2014.    

Since then, Change of Step has travelled extensively to perform, including a recent show at Strathspey Place Performing Arts Centre in Mabou.    

On that occasion, for the second time, they staged East Coast Celtic, a production the company developed ‘to celebrate the music and connection to culture that inspires them to dance.’   

“We wanted to tell a story, and we wanted to share that story with a wider audience,” Arsenault said.    

“Really, the core of the show is the way that we feel, when we are connected to our culture and connected to the music.    

“And, for us, it is the music that really inspires us to dance,” she added.    

For East Coast Celtic, that musical inspiration is provided by Cape Breton musicians Dawn and Margie Beaton, Kenneth MacKenzie and Mac Morin.    

“They are exceptional artists. As a team, those performers are so incredible, and the music is really exciting for us to dance to,” Arsenault said, a few days before the Inverness County show.      

Whenever the company takes the stage – whether it is to perform East Coast Celtic or when they take the stage for one of myriad festivals – she noted “music is so important to what we do.”    

“All of the choreography is adapted to whichever musician we are playing with,” Arsenault said.    

“We are always adapting, and listening to the music, and forming out steps from what that music is telling us.”    

The choreography, which is always original, is rooted in Scottish tradition, yet shaped by modern influences.      

“Through interpretation of the music that inspires Change of Step to dance, the company showcases the musicality, grace and athleticism of Highland dancing,” their website – www.changeofstep.com – notes.    

Getting back to East Coast Celtic, Arsenault explained, it “touches on the concept of sometimes life gets in the way.”    

“When you dig down and, sort of, find out who you are – at your core – and, sort of, acknowledge your culture and heritage, you can get some strength to carry you through whatever life throws at you,” Arsenault said.    

She added it is “more of a theatre production with a story to tell, as opposed to just a concert.”    

East Coast Celtic, co-directed by Janice Macquarrie, premiered to a sold-out performance last April in Dartmouth.    

“We are quite active on social media – that’s where we share a lot of our news,” Arsenault said, when asked how people can learn more about the company.    

Arsenault described the Change of Step Facebook page as a “really great source of information.”    

Their platform also includes Instagram – videos and photos, along with YouTube videos.    

And, of course, there is the aforementioned Change of Step website, which includes dancer biographies and a schedule of upcoming performances.

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