At the back of the church hall, Charlie MacLaren waits her turn to dance. Her mother, Melissa-Dawn MacLaren, stands next to her.
The old wooden floor is familiar territory for them both as the 17-year-old has been competing at the annual Kensington Step Dancing Festival for 12 years.
Melissa-Dawn put Charlie in dance 14 years ago, hoping it would help her overcome her shyness.
At first, her parents had to bribe her to go to class.
That is, until she started competing.
“I had something to work for,” she says.
Driven to improve, Charlie’s reluctance turned into a passion.
“Being on stage was your chance to speak,” says her mom.
The 27th annual event June 4-5 featured plenty of young dancers still trying to find their voice.
A bell sounds, signalling three of them to climb onto the stage, shoes clacking with each step.
Heel toe, heel toe they clicked to the centre of the stage in the silent hall. Once together, the music starts and the dance is on.
One young dancer gets a little extra encouragement in the form of a hug from her little sister before her performance.
“I go to ballet,” says hugger Sadie Harvey-Condon, age 3.
The little ballerina may yet take don a pair of older sister Lennon’s “tappy tap shoes” though, as she bobs along to the moves of each performance.
The competition has been clicking along all these years thanks to the leadership of Libbey Hubley.
The long-time dance teacher, area resident and proponent of Scottish music and culture is so busy with her dancers on this particular afternoon that she doesn’t have much time to talk about the history of her festival. However, she credits the volunteers, like Juanita Gill, for making it happen year after year.
Gill started volunteering when her daughter was in dance and continued helping at the festival for all of its 27 years.
“Just to see the kids – the enjoyment in their faces and the parents are so proud,” said Gill, who is quick to hop up and change the numbers on a placard after each performance to indicate to the adjudicators what category was on stage.
The adjudicators, sisters Shaunda Aucoin-Gallagher and Jessika Aucoin-LeBlanc, who are from Claire, N.S., ring the bell signalling that it’s time for the dancers to take the stage. They also provide feedback to the dancers on their performances.
“Presentation is a big one. We care more about their smiles than their footwork. You can make a million mistakes, but if you look like you’re having fun, we will still enjoy watching you,” said Aucoin-Gallagher. “We’re very nice judges. We want to encourage them to keep dancing.”
The competitors dance solo and in groups to various genres of fiddle music to showcase all their skills.
“They are basically playing music with their feet. We should know what the music sounds like, even if the music wasn’t on,” said Aucoin-Gallagher.
These days, Charlie’s feet are busy making music nearly every night of the week dancing in one style or another in the studio.
For the second year in a row, she has also scored a role dancing with the College of Piping and has several other gigs under her plaid sash.
However, the Kensington competition is where she got her start, so she keeps it in her busy calendar.
When the bell rings for Charlie to climb onto the stage, she steps gingerly, not wanting to make too much noise with her shoes.
Her dance though – a clogging routine to an energetic pop country tune – was anything but tentative. Her energetic dance was full of joy, she flew across the stage and finished with a smile.