Dancer Diary: Saorsa Dancers Travel to the SDTA Scholarship Conference

Saorsa Studio Dancers Travel to Calgary for the SDTA North American Scholarship Conference

Dancer Diary

In September, five hard-working Saorsa Studio dancers traveled to Calgary, Alberta to participate in the Scottish Dance Teachers Alliance (SDTA) North American Scholarship Conference event!

The SDTA conference is a fabulous opportunity for dancers to spread their wings when it comes to traveling, studying dance theory, making new friends, and preparing to dance at a prestigious event. 

In this blog, we’ll take you through what the SDTA Conference is, how our dancers got involved, their experiences leading up, their experiences at the event, and our dance parents’ perspectives on the whole affair!

Saorsa Studio dancers ready to dance the Tribute to J. L. McKenzie at the 2023 SDTA Scholarship Conference

What is the SDTA Scholarship Conference?

The SDTA Conference is an annual multi-day event which moves throughout North America. The event hosts workshops which typically centre around dance development, social activities, professional development, parent informational sessions, choreography, and more. The event brings in professionals from within and outside of highland dance, from all over the world!

The workshops are open to all Pre-Premier and Premier dancers, including those affiliated with governing bodies other than the SDTA.

In addition to the two days of workshops, the conference hosts the annual Elspeth G. Strathern and J. L. McKenzie highland scholarships. 

The scholarship events have dancers compete in practical and theoretical skill, and receive awards. These events include a solo choreography competition, a masterclass which measures dancer’s in-class presence, a written theory exam, and a Tribute to J. L. McKenzie competition. Dancers are separated into three categories:  juvenile, junior, and senior.

The scholarship portion of the event is open to dancers by invite only. Let’s talk about how dancers are nominated!

Saorsa Studio dancers at the Conference banquet

Which Dancers Compete in the Scholarship Events?

Dancers may participate in the SDTA Scholarship by achieving exemplary results in their Highland and Theory medals tests and being nominated by their examiner. 

Here's a throwback to the SDTA Conference in Moncton in 2017! Can you spot Saorsa Studio instructors Nicole and Kate in the group?

SDTA North American Highland Conference 2023 Calgary

Saorsa Studio had 5 dancers nominated and attending the 2023 Conference in Calgary: Kaia, Leah, Rhaya, Sophie, and Rachel. Dancers are notified of their nomination months in advance, allowing time to prepare.

New Brunswick to Calgary is quite a journey, so our dancers and their families put lots of time and effort into fundraising.

“We all worked together over the year to fundraise to help the girls make it to Calgary,” one dance mom wrote, “it also meant the girls had each other to share the experience with”. 

Leah ready to compete with her solo choreography

Preparing for the Event

As the scholarship events are quite different to a “normal highland dance competition” or another event that a dancer would have experienced before, preparation was a must.
As one dance mom put it;
“there is a lot of time between being nominated and the actual event.  This means that there is plenty of time to learn and practice a new solo and the Tribute and study theory. It also means that there is plenty of time to procrastinate. It can also be hard to keep up your motivation for studying for something that is many months away. Setting aside a little bit of time each week dedicated to SDTA scholarship practice (especially throughout the summer) was really helpful”.
Her dancer writes: “if I were to do it again, I would set aside a time in my practice to just study and practice my scholarship dances. It doesn’t have to be long, just like 15-30min and it will get better”

An Opportunity for Connection

Traveling to events such as these is an excellent opportunity to form bonds with those in your community! One dance parent had this to say:
“Connect with your dance family long before the event and while away. This allows more adventures with the dance crew outside of dance. While in Calgary, this included shopping, dinners, pool time, practice and prep, Calgary tower, Calgary zoo, and cocktail hour for the Moms. We also had the best braided buns being created by one talented Mom while the girls prepped running through their dances and theory together the night before the event. And, if you’re missing an item (ie. bobby pins, bun form, safety pins), there’s always someone to ask for a lend.”

Dancer Experiences at the Conference

After months of studying for their theory exam, learning the Tribute to J. L. McKenzie, and preparing their solo choreographies, the weekend of the Conference arrived!

Saorsa Studio dancers smiling on scholarship competition day

Our Dance Parents' Experiences

“We arrived early [in Calgary] on Thursday morning and enjoyed lunch, pool time and shopping with some of the other Fredericton competitors.  On Thursday night we registered for the weekend and reviewed the schedule for the next 3 days. We also met as a group to practice dances and review theory for the test on Friday.”
Another dance parent continues: “[The day of the scholarship events] was a long and exhausting day (for everyone including the parents).  This year’s event had the most candidates in SDTA history.  In the juvenile category alone there were over 55 dancers.  The day started with the Tribute to JL Mackenzie, followed by the solo competition, master class (learned new choreography) and the written exam.  
“After all this, the dancers had a movie night to relax and hang out with the other candidates.  There isn’t a great deal of time between the different sections so staying at the host hotel was a huge bonus (for costume changes especially).
“The last event was the Banquet. This is where the scholarship nominees find out their results for the scholarship day. This was exciting and stressful. Rhaya and her friends got to dress up in fancy dressed and shoes and have a wonderful meal together. The

parents also purchased tickets to this event. (…) 

“The banquet started by announcing each nominee. I thought this was a great touch, as each and everyone of them worked extremely hard to get there. They each also received a certificate for being a scholarship nominee. When the announcements started we were all excited and loved seeing the girls supporting each other.”

Saorsa Studio dancers with their nomination certificates at the banquet

“While the main reason we went to Calgary was for the scholarship event, there was a two-day workshop the same weekend.  There were different recommended workshop categories based on age, dance experience and/or medals testing level.  A fun part of the workshop was a class on ceilidh dancing…which the organizers also worked into the dancing portion of the banquet.  It was pretty amazing seeing all the dancers, judges, and parents up on the dance floor together.”

Advice from our Dancers

Preparing for the Conference, and Enjoying Yourself at the Event

“Practice and study a lot. Listen to your dance instructors.”

“Be prepared for long lines at the event. Biggest conference event ever meant a lot of dancers waiting to dance. I was lucky because my studio dance friends were close together in line even with the randomized draw! Make friends while you’re there too”

“Make sure to eat and drink lots. (…) A tip for master class is don’t be worried about messing up, it’s not judged on your mistakes…make sure to really pay attention to the instructor and do your best to pick up the choreography, that’s what they’re looking for. For my theory (written test) it was multiple choice with 2 short answer questions. I was nervous going into the test but I found I was well prepared and it wasn’t too hard. I think the main thing is don’t stress yourself out. Trust that you know what you’re doing, have fun and do your best”

“It’s a busy and full day. You need to make sure you know where to be and when. You are competing with many more dancers than an average competition. All dances and banquet introductions follows the same number order. Remember your number!”

“Have fun! Be proud of yourself for getting there.”

Rachel ready to perform her solo choreography

Advice from Dance Parents

“The registration, tickets purchase and hotel should be arranged early as it is possible. Stay at the host hotel for ease!”
Parents are permitted to purchase a viewing ticket which allows them entry to watch the Tribute and solos.” Another parent continues: “the choreography event this year allowed one family member/friend to film the dancer’s solo in a dedicated front row seat. Loved this idea!”
“One thing I would highly recommend is to have lots of quick snacks on hand for your dancer”
“If you are flying to the event, go with carry-on only to avoid having to check your dancers kilt, etc.  The dancers are basically in practice clothes for three days so pack sufficient to last.  The banquet is a fun time to dress up but the attire really varied.  Most dancers wore dresses.  You’ll also need to pack their traditional highland competition attire and a solo chereography costume.  There wasn’t sufficient time to adjust hair so a few decorative pins or ribbons for chereography is ideal.  We had time to do a little exploring so a couple of outfits are a good idea.  If you pre-order a For Reel Apparel item, half of your packing for one day will be waiting for you when you reach your destination! 😉  A notebook and pen to jot down notes, practice theory or reflect on the day are also a good idea along with a water bottle”. 
“Arrive early enough to adjust to the time if it’s in a different zone. No one wants to dance exhausted due to jet lag”.
“If I could offer some advice to parents who have the opportunity to attend it would be to attend the [workshop portion of the] conference even if your child is not nominated for a scholarship. I would also suggest that parents organize what their dancer needs and lay it out, so on the day of, you are not looking for everything that is needed.”
Saorsa Studio dancers with their scholarship awards at the banquet

Wrapping up an Incredible Experience at the SDTA Conference

Our dancers and their parents brought home certificates, medals, an SDTA shield, new friendships, and countless memories. Here’s just a bit of what they had to say about their overall experiences:

“My favorite part of the weekend was the banquet because it was a fun time with my dance friends. I also really enjoyed learning new steps”

“It was so nice to be able to see Rhaya and her friends all dance and see the hard work pay off. It was also amazing seeing how much support the girls provided to each other during all of this. The high fives, hugs, and words of encouragement were truly

“My favorite part of the weekend was the choreography competition and the banquet.”

“This was my first experience as a dance mom attending the SDTA scholarship event (…) it was a big decision and a commitment to get there but I am very glad we made the choice to go.”

“My highlight was seeing the girls develop a closer bond than ever before. It made it all worth it. Also, a huge thanks to the organizers, as the event was very well organized and executed. You can tell they really care about these dancers and as a dance mom that is very important.”

“We’re lucky to have a studio with some wonderful and supportive instructors who helped the girls prepare and supported them even with large events in their own lives happening. Additional messages and words of encouragement while in Calgary meant a lot to the dancers!”

“I had an amazing time and would 100% do it again”

Congratulations to our hard-working and dedicated dancers on a fabulous and well-deserved weekend❤️ We’re proud of all the preparation you put in, and of your positive representation of our studio!

Do you have more questions about the world of highland dance?

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Upcoming events at Saorsa

Dancing in a Winter Wonderland – 2023 holiday recital

Saturday, December 9th at 5:30pm
Theatre Bernard Poirier at the Centre Communautaire Sainte-Anne

Annual Studio Christmas party

Sunday, December 10th 3-5pm at Saorsa North

All dancers and families are welcome to join us for holiday snacks and activities hosted by the Fredericton Highland Dance Association!