This past weekend I challenged myself in a way that I have never been challenged before. I played for a highland dance contest.
In all my years of playing the bagpipes, I have yet to play for highland dancing. I’ve always been busy competing, helping students or playing in a band, so I’ve never really had the opportunity but I also must admit that I have also been a little scared to do it as well.
This weekend, I took the plunge and did it.
I have to confess, I took on only two of the dances (the Fling and Lilt), and James did most of the heavy lifting, er, playing. I was more nervous than I have been in my whole solo and band career. To have other people rely on your playing for their competition was a nerve-racking reality. I have stood on the world stage in international competitions and I found my knees knocking harder standing in the gymnasium at Athena surrounded by little primary dancers bopping around in their kilts.
I have to admit that I was intimidated by the dancers, the judges and the organizers. A big enough mistake and the group would have to re-dance and put those dancers at a severe disadvantage. Any mistake by me would mean I could possibly ruin the dancer’s chance at a prize.
The judges knew that I was new at it and were very kind and understanding. They were a great help in establishing tempo and letting me know if I was slowing down or speeding up. I kept my eyes peeled on them for any critiques.
Have I mentioned how nervous I was?
This past year I’ve really surprised myself by the challenges I’ve taken on. I’m the type of person who is happy to help out in the background and do the grunt work that doesn’t get the glory. By being pipe major of the Grade 5 band and now the Grade 4 band, I had to learn to be more assertive, make decisions that can impact everyone and be the face of those groups.
The dancing competition was another fear that I tackled.
Working at the college has been a personal growth experience for me.
We teach our students to conquer their fears of competing and playing in public, and here I was shrinking from playing at a dancing contest. By accepting to play at it, I learned something about myself.
I wanted to show my students that you can take on things that make you uncomfortable and nervous, and in the process, I not only demonstrated that to them but to me as well. Next time I’m asked to play at a dancing contest, I’ll accept the challenge and I will even play for more than just the Fling and the Lilt.
I can’t promise that I won’t be nervous but I can promise that I won’t be quite as intimidated by the wee dancers bopping around.
Kylie MacHattie is a bagpipe instructor at the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada in Summerside.