We had planned to present Shot of Scotch Vancouver for our Discover Dance! series on April 16 before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. But here’s Artistic Director Susan Nase with some great insights on Highland dance, her dancing career, and how she is managing as an artist during these days of social distancing.
How did you get involved with dance?
Dance has always been part of my life and some of my earliest memories are of my mother and me dancing in the kitchen together. I started structured dance classes at age 5 and haven’t stopped since. In my youth I studied tap, jazz, ballet and Highland.
How was Shot of Scotch Vancouver established?
Shot of Scotch was first started while I was living in New York. There is a ton of Irish culture there, but very little Scottish so SoS was formed as an outlet for me to continue to Highland dance. The group in NYC grew from three founding members to a large active company in only two years. When my work visa expired, I moved back to Canada and the Vancouver branch of Shot of Scotch was born.
What are some common preconceptions about Highland dance?
The vast majority of people are unfamiliar with Highland dance, often confusing it with Irish dance and the infamous show Riverdance. Through the work we do with Shot of Scotch Vancouver, I am hoping to reach a broader audience in our community, to more widely showcase the beauty, stamina and strength of the dance form. Premier level Highland dancing requires years of rigour, vigour and investment in consistent training to achieve such precision and extreme athleticism.
What do you love most about Highland dance?
Highland dance has always provided a true sense of community for me. The deep cultural roots of it have connected me to not only other dancers, but to their families and our communities. We work as much as possible with live music so are always collaborating with Celtic musicians and pipe and drum bands.
What is your proudest moment to date?
My proudest moments are happening now. It has been my vision for many years to create exciting, sustainable, professional opportunities for premier level Highland dancers to continue to dance beyond their competitive careers, and to connect more deeply with our community. We became a non-profit society one year ago and have already received two grants to research and create new professional work. Shot of Scotch Vancouver is forging new ground for adult Highland dancers.
If you didn’t have a career in dance, what might you be doing?
Believe it or not, I am a Chemical Engineer who tried sitting in an office for 6 years. Jazz hands and kick-ball-changes were discouraged so my engineering career came to an early end.
What was the last thing you were working on before the pandemic?
Before the shutdown we were hard at work preparing our Discover Dance! show. This included remounting a piece called Highland Feet that was originally created for the International Body Music Festival in Paris in 2016. It was choreographed by composing the sounds that Highland dancers make from traditional dance movements, and is danced acapella, showing only the dancers’ feet as they interact with each other. Other pieces in our planned program are original choreographies featuring live music of the bagpipes, guitar, fiddle and voice. We will have to wait until next season to present this work, but we are very much looking forward to it!
Tell us about your Canada Council grant.
We are thrilled to have just received a Canada Council research and creation grant to begin work on what will become our first full-length production. We are experimenting with ways to convey theme and narrative through Highland dance. Highland dance in its traditional form is not an expressive dance form. It’s athletic, virtuosic and powerful, but the movements are heavily structured, and the technique is rigid. The stories and history of the cultural roots and the dance form, however, are rich, expressive and captivating. We’re working with a musician and actor to find ways to move beyond the limitations of traditional Highland dance and to push our creation and choreography into completely new and exciting territory.
What are you doing at home to keep moving and sustain your artistic practice?
We’re going through a challenging time right now, and like so much of the arts sector, are managing the sudden cancellation of a lot of performances, classes and projects. We are finding ways to keep group classes and some rehearsals going online. To help keep our sanity and connection to each other, the company dancers have started a daily fitness challenge where we meet online and sweat it out for a few minutes together. If we’re all stuck at home, we might as well cross-train and get stronger!
Photos by Chris Randle