Highland dancing up a storm

Happy feet . . . Sisters Harper (left, 9) and Milla McKenzie (6) were proud to come away with first and third placings, respectively, in their age groups at the New Zealand Highland Dancer of the Year competition, held at the weekend. Inset: Olivia Mavor (16) won the under›18 title. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED

It was a spring fling for young Oamaru sisters Harper and Milla McKenzie.

Harper (9) won the 9-year-old champion dancer title at the recent New Zealand Highland Dancer of the Year competition in Nelson, having won most points over her four dances — the sailor’s hornpipe, Irish jig, Highland fling and sword dance — while Milla (6) was third overall in the 6-years-and-under category.

Harper, who has been dancing for three and a›half years, was excited about her success, saying she had ‘‘never won something that big before’’ and she was proud of her achievement.

There were 22 young competitors in the 9-year-old category and the competition attracted dancers from throughout New Zealand.

The sisters, both pupils at Weston School, were taught by local highland dancing teacher Kimberley Mavor, whose own daughter, Olivia (16), won the under-18 dancer of the year title.

The McKenzie sisters practised twice a week and spoke highly of Mrs Mavor, who was ‘‘always supporting and helping’’ them.

They had other local dancing role models, including Olivia — who has been accepted to join the Highland Dance Company of New Zealand at the Virginia International Tattoo in the United States in April next year — and other dancing families who had encouraged them to get into highland dancing.

Their mother, Abbey, was proud of her girls. The accomplished netball coach was ‘‘surprised to be a dance mum’’, as she had never been a dancer, but she loved the ‘‘community’’ that highland dancing created.

Asked how she prepared for competitions, Harper said the best thing to do was ‘‘try to breathe’’. Even if she got nervous, it was worthwhile because dancing was so much fun.

‘‘It gets easier the more you practice,’’ she said.

Last year, Harper was runner-up at the New Zealand national championships in the under-8 section. Milla had only been on the stage for a year, so it was a ‘‘pretty big deal’’, Mrs McKenzie said.

As well as dancing, both girls were involved in a variety of other sports. They planned to continue with their dancing and had another competition in November.

Mrs Mavor said it was great to see her pupils rewarded for their dedication and hard work. Highland dancing was a disciplined art form and motivation and determination were required. Finesse was needed, in both technique and execution, to be noticed by the judges.

The effort put into the competition, not only by her own pupils but also other competitors, was ‘‘really impressive’’ and it was clear that ‘‘everyone was out there to do their very best’’, she said.

Mrs Mavor’s younger daughter, Lucy (14), and another of her pupils, Alexa Morresey (13), also competed at the event.

Her pupils were looking forward to their annual end-of-year show at the Opera House on December 7.