It was a memorable dance for a group of Ottawa Highland dancers when they performed for Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral Castle in Scotland last August.
The group of dancers included members of the Champagne School of Dance and the Reel Ottawa Dance Company. They have been invited to join the Sons of Scotland Pipe Band and travel to Scotland for a performance before Queen Elizabeth on August 17.
One of the dancers was Lexi Sample, who says it was hard to contain the nerves.
“I have long loved the queen; I admired her. So, I was excited, but I was really nervous because she’s the queen!
Fiona Champagne is the director of the Ecole de Danse Champagne. Champagne says the moment was made even more poignant with the monarch’s death a few weeks later.
“It’s mind-boggling to think we were just there,” Champagne says. “How very, very lucky we were to be able to seize our opportunity to play for the Queen.”
The performance lasted just 26 minutes and, due to royal protocol and because they were at the Queen’s private residence, they were unable to take any photos or videos of the Queen. But Chelse Laplante, co-director of the Reel Ottawa Dance Company, says it made them really appreciate the moment.
“It was a nice way to let us go, ‘We have to live this moment. We have to be very present and absorb it all. Anyone you talk to who has been on this journey, I guarantee you, their memory of this what happened is clearer than any picture or video.
Ainsley Waldorf says it was hard not to keep watching the monarch dance. “It was absolutely hard not to!” she says. “But when you’re face to face, it was fun to smile and just see her smile back. She was so excited to be there and watch.
Members of the Reel Ottawa Dance Company performed a specially choreographed number for the Queen called “Balmoral”. Laplante says sometimes the dancers got close enough to the Queen to be able to hear her applause and her reaction. “Two of our dancers who were just up front heard the Queen say, ‘Oh, that was very well done!’ It’s the best compliment you can receive as a dancer,” says Laplante.
Anna Gregory has been dancing since she was four, but says performing at Balmoral was a highlight of her career.
“Doing something I love for the Queen; being able to do Highland dancing in Scotland for someone who loves bagpipes and dancing; she was so warm and welcoming when she saw us. It made it so much more magical.
The Champagne School of Dance performed a Hullachan Reel for 16 people. Laplante also recounts that when her youngest son Colt, who dances in the group, turned around at the end, the Queen offered words of encouragement. “(Our photographer) could hear the Queen talking to Colt, saying, ‘Don’t worry, just turn around’, like a very grandma.”
Morgan Duncan describes the day as one full of happiness.
“I can’t imagine a better experience. We all felt so lucky to be there,” she says. “The best part is just having this experience and now we can share this experience with our family members and friends. It will be something we will never forget.