Close to the Floor,
Celtic Colours 2002
at Strathspey Place
in Mabou, Cape Breton, NS
(15 October 2002)

This was my third concert in as many days. My husband was showing a great deal of patience and encouragement as I planned my nightly musical jaunts. I was excited about tonight's show because the title implied there'd be stepdancing -- that usually means great fiddling and I was more than ready for that. "Close to the floor" is a term used to describe how the best dancers perform: their knees stay low, watch for lots of ankle movement, and the arms stay quietly at the dancer's side. It's a demanding form of dance and when it's added to a square set can easily give you a 20-minute work-out.

After reading the program, I settled into the comfortable theatre seating and watched the high-stepping sword dance by award-winning Highland dancers from Dale Ryan's Port Hawkesbury School. It was a colourful swirl of kilts to open the show.

Many local dancers took turns displaying stepdancing, square-dancing and the Scotch Four to the tunes of the fiddle. It takes a certain type of fiddler to play well for dancing and Andrea Beaton of Long Point, accompanied by her mother Betty Lou on piano, was more than capable. She played tirelessly for much of the evening.

A large contingent of Mabou dancers including Margie and Dawn Beaton swept the floor with their stylish steps. University student Gerard Beaton showed fantastic steps, "nifty" some might say. My own favorite was dancer Harvey MacKinnon, from the Whycocomagh area. It was easy to see why so many want to take dance instruction from Harvey.

Familiar, and yet different from our own style in a number of ways, was the dancing of Alasdair Cordona from Scotland. He displayed a cotillion style of stepdance, and he took a few moments to teach the tune to fiddler Andrea Beaton and the steps to dancer Cheryl MacQuarrie. Though done at a slower tempo, some of the steps were very like Cape Breton steps.

Cucanandy of North Carolina played and sang and danced and were a lively addition to the show in the second half. I'm not sure what way to describe their playing and dancing, but I really liked an old-time tune they did.

This was a Cape Breton concert with lots of fiddling, lots of dancing, lots of people in the show, lots of local talent and enough spontaneous happenings to make it interesting. If I'm going to a concert in Cape Breton, that's what I look for.

I was beginning to appreciate, however, that even though these concerts might be held in Cape Breton, they were part of an "international" festival. It was starting to sink in that we might be the hosts but local talent was expected to share the stage with visiting musicians for close to 50 percent of the time.

This concert successfully displayed a wide variety of dancers and styles in what seemed like a short time. I think the concert-goers really had a good look a the types of dances that are popular here. I'll mention another great venue for those who'd like to see more stepdancing, and that is the Chestico Days festival in Port Hood, Cape Breton, usually held during the first weekend of August. For years, they've hosted a whole afternoon of stepdancing on their outdoor stage by the ocean. And of course, in October 2003, I'm sure the Celtic Colours International Festival will have another great round of concerts featuring Cape Breton dancers.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 18 January 2003