Formatted around development of the Celtic arts for children and adults in Cape Breton, The Celtic Department is offering a three-day Summer Workshop, July 26-28 in Westmount.
“The idea is to teach a well-rounded version of all aspects of the culture through song, music and dance, intertwining all three for a deeper understanding and appreciation of these arts,” says Kelly MacArthur, director and owner of MacArthur School of Dance. “Students will see development in three areas of interest: recreation, performance and competition, and most importantly, an overall appreciation and understanding of the culture.”
The Celtic Department came about as a reaction to recent changes in piping and drumming programs on the island, says MacArthur.
“Pipe Band style piping and drumming are no longer offered as a formal teaching option on our island. I thought this was a shame, and a very sad future for the youth interested. A very sad future for dancers as well, as it is nearly impossible to find a piper to play for an event as it is, and we truly would prefer not to use pre-recorded music. Pipers and drummers have been forced to leave the Island to join competitive Pipe Bands the past number of years, most going to Antigonish or Halifax Bands.”
“This inspired the idea of offering some workshop programs to compensate these students and others. We decided to run Step and Highland Dance with the program, because they are subjects I always offer, and the fiddle falls right in line. Gaelic Language and Song were already brewing ideas, so that tied everything together in a neat little package called The Celtic Department.”
MacArthur and Gaelic Song and Language instructor Angus MacLeod had had many discussions about ways to entice more people with Gaelic while working at the Gaelic College last summer, before the changes. They noted that a good proportion of the Gaelic Song Classes at the College were full of Highland Dancers.
“So we thought it might be a cool idea to have a ‘Gaelic Mod’ again for one day,” says MacArthur. They were thinking the day following the Annual Gaelic College Highland Dance Competition was the perfect time, so the dancers—and anyone else in the community—could stay the extra day and take part in the Mod activities.
MacArthur says they were just bouncing ideas around, but when the programming at the Gaelic College changed, “We decided we could do something on our own to keep the dancers and their families interested, and we thought it would be even better to offer it open to the whole community.”
The Celtic Department ran a very successful pilot program on the March Break, with top-notch instructors and more than 30 students of all levels from all over Nova Scotia. The Summer Workshops will run in a similar format to the pilot, says MacArthur, with daily classes, an evening Family Ceilidh, and daily instructor demos on a three-day schedule.
“I ran a pilot program for two days on the March Break, and 32 students registered for classes! It was so exciting. Approximately half were from my dance family, and the other half were random community kids that heard about the program. Best of all, we had 10-12 of these kids try both piping and drumming as beginners! This was fantastic.”
“We also had a Family Ceilidh (Square Dance) one of the evenings for all the families, played by Colin Grant and Jason Roach, and it was amazing. Some kids had never experienced a ceilidh/dance before, and everyone loved it.”
Monthly Gaelic Song classes started in April, and it’s going very well. “We have had about 15 people at each session so far,” says MacArthur. “Both dancers and their family members, as well as community folk. It is a relaxed and fun class, with lots of laughs and learning. We always have tea and cookies after class, which makes it more fun.”
Registration is open online until Thursday, July 19 for The Celtic Department’s Summer Workshop, July 26-28 at the MacArthur School of Dance on Sunnydale Drive in Westmount. Disciplines taught include Gaelic Song/Language: Angus MacLeod; Highland Dance: Karenanne Peck; Step Dance: Ashley Foster; Bagpipes: Robin Whitty and Michael McMillan; Pipe Band Drumming: Redmond MacDougall and Fiddle: Colin Grant. Beginner through advanced levels will be offered in all areas for children ages 5 and up, and evening sessions will be offered for adults.