Marielle Lespérance is no stranger to world titles in highland dancing.
But this year’s win stood out because her 11-month-old daughter was in attendance.
“It meant the world that Margaux and my husband were there to watch me dance,” Lespérance said.
The annual World Highland Dance Championships took place at the Cowal Highland Gathering in Scotland late last month.
Lespérance won her record seventh world championship in the adult division, but that may not be the only record she has broken.
Event organizers believe the Dartmouth-based dance instructor is the first mother in 72-year-old history to win the championship.
“I didn’t even know if it was possible to dance a world championship and be at the level I wanted to be at,” Lespérance said of competing as a mother.
“My goal was to try to give my best performance and to make sure I was always at the level I wanted to be. And I managed to do that.”
“We have never seen anything like this before”
Lespérance won his first world title as a juvenile 19 years ago.
In the 2022 contest, she won all four dances in the adult division, which had 90 competitors.
There are three judges for each dance. Eleven of the 12 judges had it at the top of their scorecards.
Deryck Mitchelson, the organizer of the Cowal Gathering mountain dance, said Lespérance, 33, is a unique talent.
“We’ve never seen someone who was able to carry on at the same age as Marielle and be so dominant,” Mitchelson said.
Mitchelson said most dancers hit their peak in their early to mid-twenties, but Lespérance improved every year.
“She’s unfazed,” Mitchelson said. “When you see her in competition, she’s graceful, she’s technical, she has precision and she finishes her dances as hard as she started them, which is quite unusual.
“She makes it look so easy.”
Lespérance was inspired to attend this year’s gathering after seeing new mothers have success at the recent Olympics.
Inspire the next generation
Lespérance wasn’t the only Nova Scotian dancer to step onto the podium at the event.
Oliva Burke, 16, of Sydney, won second place in the juvenile decision. She credited the hard work during the pandemic and the support of the Nova Scotia dance community for helping her get her first place.
Burke said Lespérance is a great role model for aspiring dancers in the province.
“I’ve looked up to dancers like Marielle since I was just a little dancer,” Burke said. “It was pretty amazing to be on the same stage as her.”
The students of Lespérance of her dance school are happy to learn from the world champion who breaks all records.
Alexandra Fraser has been dancing in Lespérance’s studio for several years. She says the biggest lesson Lespérance has taught her is not to give up after losing a competition.
“Sometimes when I lose I’m really disappointed, but there’s someone to carry on and it’s great that she praises me when I dance,” Fraser said.
Esperance is thrilled to see the young Nova Scotians competing at a high level. She has not decided whether she will return to the Cowal Gathering next year, but said she was happy with her achievements.