Young Scottish or ‘Highland’ dancers place high in their national championship competitionNov 07, 2023 03:41PM ● By Carl Fauver
Highland dancers of all ages made their way to Portland, Oregon earlier this year for their national championship competition. In the foreground, Jacqueline Ritchie, Jane Hollowell and Mairi Gunn (L-R) were the top placers for the group from Kelsey Deklerk’s Taylorsville-based Crane School of Highland Dance. (Jeff Cobabe)
The Taylorsville-based Crane School of Highland Dance cleaned up this year at a national championship competition held in Portland, Oregon. Utah girls of many different ages participated in the event which features four different individual dances, each about two minutes long. The girls’ instructor, Dr. Kelsey Deklerk, is a 4-time national champion herself.
“The girls did awesome; they were very well prepared to compete,” Deklerk said. “I knew they would do well. This was my first time (as an instructor) to have more than one girl qualify for nationals. They were definitely ready and I am very proud of them.”
Placing in the Highland dance national finals were: Jacqueline Ritchie (age 8) 5th place, Mairi Gunn (age 11) 3rd place and Jane Hollowell (age 9) 2nd place.
These top finishers – and others from the Crane School – qualified for the national finals by placing near the top at their regional finals two months earlier in Seattle, Washington. Utah dancers compete in a region with girls and boys from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.
A 2009 graduate of West Jordan High School, Deklerk has lived in Taylorsville since 2012. That’s also the year she opened her Crane School of Highland Dance.
“My mom was a dancer and I got interested in it at a young age,” Deklerk said. “Both sides of my family have very strong Scottish ties. I began taking Scottish dance lessons at about age 6. I was the national champion for my age group in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008. I haven’t had one of my students crowned a national champion yet. But they are getting closer.”
Deklerk earned her bachelor’s degree at Utah State, a master’s degree from the University of Utah and her doctorate of literacy, culture and language education through Indiana University. She’s now in her third year as an assistant education professor at Salt Lake Community College.
“For me, all of the skills I have as an adult tie back to my experience in dance,” Deklerk said. “It teaches kids how to work hard, be dedicated, win and lose graciously and many other life skills. It also taught me how to interact well with other dancers. I learned wonderful life lessons through Highland dance and am now trying to share those with my students.”
Deklerk has also begun teaching Scottish dance to her older of two daughters, 5-year-old Quinn.
Deklerk’s assistant Scottish dance instructor is Erin Gunn, whose daughter Mairi was one of those top national finals placers in Portland.
“My mother was also a Scottish dance instructor and I began dancing at age 5,” Erin Gunn said. “I’m glad (my daughter) Mairi also enjoys it. We have a lot of Scottish heritage in our family. This was Mairi’s second year to compete in the national finals. And because she placed in the top three, she’s already qualified for next year’s championship.”
The Highland dance national finals travel all across the country from year to year. Mairi Gunn placed fifth in her age group a year ago in Madison, Wisconsin. After placing third in nationals this year in Portland, she and her parents are already thinking about next year’s national finals to be held in Boston.
“I really enjoy Scottish dance and definitely want to do it for as long as I can,” Mairi Gunn said. “I was very nervous before my first (national finals) dance this year. But after you do that first dance, it’s not that scary. I was surprised I did so well. I’m proud of myself.”
Like Deklerk, Erin Gunn believes the girls learn a lot more than smiling and where to put their feet through Highland dance.
“Highland dance teaches kids the values of focus, hard work, perseverance and sportsmanship,” she said. “It also teaches them good time management skills – which will be important for Mairi as she approaches junior high and begins to get more homework. Kelsey is a great instructor and does a good job teaching her students these skills.”
Deklerk reports Utah has the third largest population of competitive Highland dancers in the country. Back in 2012, she had about five students. Now that count is much closer to 50 – with a few boys mixed in along with the girls.
Anyone interested in learning more about Highland dance – or possibly enrolling a student – can contact Kelsey Deklerk at craneschoolofhighlanddance.com or (801) 837-2269. λ