Concentration and focus are key attributes for Highland dancers.
In years gone by, that was especially true for competitors in the annual Antigonish Highland Games – just ask Gerarda MacDonald.
“A shot might go off in the middle of everything,” she said, with a laugh, remembering the sound of a starter’s pistol that could ring out at Columbus Field while dancers performed.
MacDonald had that experience – both as a dancer and a teacher.
That was just an example of what could be, at times, a chaotic atmosphere at the Games, with everything from dancing and piping and drumming to heavy events and track and field taking place at the venerable location.
“It has always been a lot of fun,” MacDonald, who continues to volunteer with the Antigonish Highland Society and the Games, said.
For her tireless contributions and many accomplishments as a dancer and teacher, she has been inducted into the Antigonish Highland Society Games’ Hall of Fame.
“It’s quite an honour,” MacDonald said in her Church Street dining room a couple days before the induction ceremony.
She stressed there are so many people who deserve the same recognition, while reflecting on the prowess of other Class of 2019 members, including piper Barry Ewen.
“He was world class,” MacDonald said of the musician.
Not to mention her “great friend” Colin Patrick MacDonald a second-to-none middle distance runner who excelled at the Games.
She also has a connection to heavy events’ star and Antigonish native – now a Roman Catholic priest – Father Doug MacDonald, who she taught Highland dancing to for four years, beginning when he was six.
“Never did I think,” MacDonald said, with a laugh, of his future athletic accomplishments.
As for her time as a dancer, she noted there were “so many great opportunities,” recalling a couple trips to Newfoundland, as a teenager, along with the traditional Canada Day performances in Pugwash.
And, of course, there was having the chance to perform on the Games’ stage.
“It was such a fabulous experience,” MacDonald said.
She started dancing under the tutelage of the legendary Florence MacMillan, who lived on the same street in her Antigonish neighbourhood.
“Eight, I think,” she said, when asked how old she was when she danced in her first Games.
Describing MacMillan – a member of the inaugural Hall class – as “really strict,” MacDonald said her mentor’s dedication to Highland dancing and her students was amazing.
“They were over when she was finished with us,” she noted, with a laugh, of the Saturday sessions that began at 9 a.m.
MacDonald said that love for dancing, greatly fostered on those mornings, continued – maybe even grew – as a teacher.
“They were more than 700 dancers – it was amazing,” she recalled of the number of competitors in 1979, when the Games served as host for the International Gathering of the Clans.
“It was such a wonderful thing,” she added.
With all that, what tops the list – when it comes to her involvement with Highland dancing and the AHG – are the “lifelong friendships.”
“It is like family,” MacDonald said.