British Columbia teenager wins Highland Dance World Championship in Scotland

A 17-year-old from British Columbia has won a world championship dance from the Highlands in Scotland, the birthplace of dance.

Annalize Lam of the Brigadoon Dance Academy in Nanaimo, BC, placed first in the junior championship at the Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon last Saturday.

The teenager has been practicing Highland dancing for over a decade and qualified for the event in Scotland after winning the Canadian Championship in Regina in July.

Lam beat Australia’s Morven Johnston and Nova Scotia’s Olivia Burke for the junior title, which is restricted to teenagers under the age of 18.

“I’m just over the moon, excited,” she told CBC host Robyn Burns All points west.

“My friends won’t let me forget that,” she laughed. “I’m so proud of myself. And so are they.”

Brigadoon Dance Academy students Keltie Willis, left, and Annalize Lam during their trip to Scotland. It was the first time that Lam, who has Scottish heritage, had visited the birthplace of Highland dancing. (Brigadoon Dance Academy/Facebook)

Dozens of people showed up at the Nanaimo airport to welcome Lam home, with one of her friends even bringing bagpipes to add a bit of Scottish atmosphere upon her arrival.

“It was so much fun,” Lam said.

“You have to show these judges what you can do”

Highland dancing is a competitive dance form that was developed in 19th century Scotland, where men practiced it as a battlefield ritual and also as a form of social storytelling.

Today, women win almost every major championship in the world. At Dunoon, dancers had to compete in four categories around the music of bagpipes and percussion: throwing, sword, sean triubhas and reel.

Lam’s coach Diena Henry attended the championships with fellow academy dancer Keltie Willis – who earlier on the same trip won medals at a Commonwealth competition in Stirling.

Prior to the trip to Scotland, Lam completed second at British Columbia Championships before her victory at the national championships, which Henry said was the first for a dancer born on Vancouver Island since 1988.

After his protege completed qualifying at Dunoon last weekend, Henry said there weren’t many opportunities to practice due to the fast turnaround between events.

“We had a conversation… our goal is always not to beat anyone. Our goal is always to dance our best,” she said.

“Our discussion was, for the World Final, you can’t hold back. You have to show these judges what you can do.”

Lam said she felt “really good” about her performance before the judges delivered their verdict.

“I was just in tears hugging her,” Henry said, describing his emotions after Lam won first place. “It went well, you know? It was pretty exciting.”

Henry said she couldn’t sleep that night because she kept replaying in her head the last event of the gathering – a ceremonial adventure in the Highlands during which Lam danced with the other champions.

Edinburgh Tattoo Dreams

Lam says she was drawn to the dance because of the strength, power and technique required to perform it correctly. She also has Scottish heritage from her mother’s side of the family.

She practices at Henry Academy twice a week, and at home in between.

Henry compared Lam’s attitude in class to a “border collie who wants to go to work”.

“She just wants the ball, like ‘give it to me,'” Henry told CBC News. “It’s a treat to work with her because she wants to get better so much.”

Two girls smile in front of small caravans.  One of them wears a kilt in a plastic bag.  They are both wearing shirts that read
Lam (left) and Willis at Dunoon Caravan Park where they stayed during the Cowal Highland Gathering. (Brigadoon Dance Academy/Facebook)

The champion now has her sights set on performing at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo – a series of performances in Scotland’s capital featuring bands, drills and display teams – which takes place every August.

“[It] would be a new experience of performance rather than competition,” Lam said. “I would have to audition, but it would be amazing if I could get in.

5:27Nanaimo Highland Dancer Wins First Place at World Championships in Scotland

Annalize Lam, a 17-year-old Highland dancer from Nanaimo, won first place in the Juniors category at the Cowal Gathering in Scotland. She spoke with Robyn Burns about the experience.