DANCERS from the Borders are heading to the other end of the country to compete in national championships this weekend.
The talented performers of the Ward School of Irish Dance will contest classes in the Celtic National Championships at Poole.
And the Galashiels troupe have set themselves a high standard to maintain. For last year the 17 dancers competing brought back the senior championship, 17 medals and 12 trophies.
Dance teacher Joanne McGowan said: “The dancers are coming into their own, they’ve come along amazingly.”
The 30-year-old started instructing alongside her teacher – Margaret Carson, who ran the Ward School at the time – when she was a fashion design student at Heriot Watt in Galashiels in 2000.
A single class of 10 in the town has grown to 11 classes a week and more than 90 dancers of all ages and stages.
“My teacher and I worked together and it grew from there, it just snowballed. Fashion was an interest and something I could do, but I always wanted to teach and carry on with my dancing as long as I could. I’m lucky,” said Joanne.
She says she was relatively old when she started dancing, aged 11, with the Ward School in her hometown of Musselburgh and she last competed in the World Championships in 2000.
Although of Irish grand-parents, Joanne explained: “There wasn’t any Irish dancing in our family. I noticed a poster for it in the local church hall one day, I popped along and instantly loved it: it’s the challenge and the fitness and the music.
“And there’s a lot more to Irish dancing than you might expect: it’s challenging that way and it’s good fun.”
Joanne took over the Ward School – which has classes in Edinburgh, Musselburgh and Loanhead – when Margaret retired, and puts her fashion degree to use by making some Irish dance dresses for her girls.
In the last few years the troupe have performed as part of the pre-match entertainment at Murrayfield for an Ireland-Scotland game in the Six Nations rugby tournament, they have worked with the famous Louis Spence from the Pineapple Dance Studios and performed at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, when they also met television presenters Ant and Dec.
In September, they danced in The Essence of Ireland Show at the Edinburgh Playhouse – and, of course, they compete.
Just last month at an open feis (pronounced ‘fesh’ – a competition) the Ward School pupils scooped the nine-and-under and 16-and-under trophies, won 16 first places and brought a total of 62 medals back home with them.
Proud mum Nikki Hume, whose nine-year-old daughter Lauren started Irish dancing aged four, said: “All the dancers love it and look forward to their classes each week.
She explained: “A friend’s daughter was going and I thought it was something Lauren would love. She was doing ballet.
“She enjoys the faster pace of it, the teamwork and the challenges of it, the fitness – it’s a great form of exercise for her – and it can be quite intense.
“I think, generally, the children just enjoy the fun of it and they love Joanne, they respect her so much.”
And she added: “People are so thrilled when they see them dance, it’s such a buzz, it’s so fast-paced.”
The Celtic National Championships start tomorrow and run until Monday.
For more information on the dance school see www.wardirishdance.co.uk