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Southern Maryland’s Highland Fling

Local lasses drawn home by the dance and the culture

The joy of Scottish Highland dance bound them together as girls coming up in Calvert County. Now they are returning from hundreds and even thousands of miles away to lead the dance events at Southern Maryland Celtic Festival and Highland Gathering at Jefferson-Patterson Park April 30.
    Calvert County-bred Victoria Major, this year’s dance steward, returns for the annual festival from Boston, where she works as an accountant for Liberty Mutual. She grew up watching highland dance at the gathering. “I was completely mesmerized sitting by the stage,” she says. She began taking lessons at the age of 10.
    Costumed in the traditional kilt, Scottish Highland dancers are accompanied by the bagpipes. Some 65, ranging in age from three to adult, dance this year, solo and in competition.
    Some 20 years later, Major continues to study, train and compete around the country, as well as teach from her dance school.
    Also returning is Emma Trentman, from Albuquerque, while Megan Stangl drives up from Chesapeake, Virginia.
    Two weeks ago, Major led a group of young highland dancers in their kilts and rain slickers in the Tartan Day parade in New York City, a performance featured in Vanity Fair. Many of these dancers compete on Saturday.
    In turn, this year’s festival leads to the Eastern regional championship on May 7 in Stroudsberg, Pennsylvania. Many dancers will be competing at the Southern Maryland gathering as a warm-up, so this year’s festival is expected to draw a crowd.
    Scottish Highland dancing highlights strength and agility. The originators of the Highland Fling danced it on their upturned shields with a sharp spike of steel projecting from the ­center.
    Many of the dances harken back to Scotland’s embattled military and political history. In the Gillie Callum, warriors dance over crossed swords to celebrate victory in battle or in preparation for battle. The Sean Triubhas (Gaelic for old trousers) originated as a political protest when wearing the kilt was an act of treason.
    Mastering these dances takes stamina, technical precision and years of training with experienced teachers. “Now that I’ve been teaching for five or six years, it really focuses your eye and makes you stronger. It’s a tough sport,” says Major. “It requires confidence and self-discipline and drive. You can take these and apply them in all aspects of your life and work.”
    Major is devoted to all things Scottish, not surprising given that Major’s “very Scottish” grandmother Mary Beth Dent started the Southern Maryland Celtic Festival in her front yard 38 years ago.    
    Major has traveled to Scotland with students and has been involved with the alumni association of Scottish Dance USA and its initiative to involve younger generations.
    “It’s a legacy for me, it’s family,” she says. “If we don’t stay involved, it will die out.”
    The Celtic Festival’s everything tartan program packs Saturday, April 30 with music and instruction to go with the dancing, living history to illuminate the culture, storytellers and genealogy seminars to strengthen cultural links, heavy-weight athletic events to testify to Celtic martial prowess and pride — plus food and drink all in Jefferson Patterson Park’s beautiful Patuxent River setting in St. Leonard.
    “There is too much to see in one day because with all the 23 event stations there is always something going on,” says Dent. “Our goal is to entice folks to come again so they can see more.”

The Southern Maryland Celtic Festival: 10am-6pm, $20 w/discounts: