Highland dancer explores roots

McKenzie-White overcomes injury to place overseas

Melissa McKenzie and daughter Jaida McKenzie-White dressed for competition. Photo supplied

On a grassy ‘lump’ in a town of around 1,000 people on an island at the northwest tip of Scotland, Sun Peaks resident Jaida McKenzie-White danced on a stage in front of thousands of people.

Her aunt, cousin, grandmother, father and brother were all there to watch and cheer her on. Her mother, Melissa McKenzie, got into costume for the first time in five years and competed alongside her.

The family travelled to Scotland in August to attend three Highland Games competitions around the country. With one event cancelled due to poor weather and another withdrawn from due to an injury, the Isle of Skye Highland Games in Portree was their single competition on the trip. Despite the setbacks from a skiing injury, Jaida placed in three categories and brought home medals.

Dancers are judged on a variety of qualities including footwork, foot, head, arm and shoulder placement, hair, outfit, stage presence, stamina and elevation of jumps.

The 17-year-old, grade 12 student has taken part in highland dancing for ten years, in addition to ballet, hip-hop, jazz and lyrical dance.

With her mother and aunt’s highland dance backgrounds there was never a question on if she would take part.

With her team in Kamloops she’s competed across Canada and the U.S. and would like to become a teacher one day.

“I hope to take my teachers and be able to pass my passion onto other people,” she said.
But the trip abroad was more than dancing or a competition; it was time spent learning about dance culture and connecting with family.

Jaida McKenzie-White with awards. Photo supplied

Melissa and Jaida said the experience was different from the games that stretch across huge fields in North America.

“It was all packed in,” Melissa said. “You see people running and tossing and dancing all in the same spot.”

“It was a little bit intimidating,” Jaida said. “That experience is probably something I’ll never experience again. They have a competition weekly, that’s their life.”

For Melissa getting on stage had another level of intimidation, not having danced in years.
“It was about doing it with Jaida and having that experience with her. I’m glad I did it, it was cool…we had never been there with our kids.”

Returning to Canada after the competition and two months of travel, Jaida reflected on the trip.

“I think one of the biggest highlights was to be able to be super proud of myself for getting through all my dances. And to be able to do it with my cousin.

Dancers share the stage in Scotland. Photo supplied

“It felt really special, especially that my nana came. It just in a way felt like another competition but it felt really special that my dad was able to be there because he’s not usually able to come to competitions. And to travel all that way just to see my cousin and I.”

She sees dance staying in her life in some form in the future, she said.

“I think that I’ll definitely always have a connection to dance because it’s a way I can express myself and express my feelings. It’s something that’s very special for me. “