Nation's Top Highland Dancers Attend Alma College
Alma College is home to some of the country';s best Scottish Highland dancers, who are preparing for the national championships July 22 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
"There is an entire community of Highland dance, and Alma, Mich., is at the heart of it," says local dance instructor Christie Freestone '74. "Ninety-five dancers will compete at the national competition, and undoubtedly Alma College will have more than any other institution."
Four current Alma College students and one recent alumnus will compete at the U.S. Inter-Regional Highland Dance Championship. The champions and top two runners-up from each age group in each of six U.S. regions qualify for the national competition.
In the 18-and-over age division, the champions of the West, Northwest and Midwest regions are all Alma College students.
The Alma competitors include:
Kate DeGood of Alma, a five-time U.S. and three-time North American champion;
Trisha MacConnell of San Jose, Calif., a five-time Western Regional champion and 11-time representative to the national championships;
Elizabeth Fishback of Banks, Oreg., a past North American and five-time Northwest Regional champion;
Cailin Wilson of Centerville, Kansas, a two-time Southwest Regional champion and 10-time representative to the national championships;
Stephenie Kate Goodell of St. Louis, a recent Alma graduate and first runner-up in the Midwest Region.
In addition, Kira Cogswell Van Steenkiste of Eagan, Minn., the defending 18-and-over national champion, is an Alma alumnus. She is not competing this year.
"These are top-notch students coming to Alma from all over the country to continue their lessons," says Freestone. "Other colleges have Highland dance programs, but they don't have a base of strong dancing that we have here. In our field, it's like having all the best tennis players in the world living in the same town. These are like Olympic stars in their fields. These kids are well known around the world in the field of Highland dancing."
The students credit Freestone and her downtown Alma studio, just walking distance from the campus, as major reasons Highland dancers seek out Alma College. The 120-year-old private liberal arts college has kept its Scottish heritage alive with a marching band clad in kilts, student pipers and its own tartan. Each year, the College hosts the Alma Highland Festival and Games.
"Christie is an excellent teacher," says DeGood. "Alma is one of the very few places in the United States where students can get an excellent college education and still stay at a top competitive level in Highland dancing.
"Having so many excellent dancers coming here builds on itself," says DeGood. "Constantly practicing and competing against each other pushes us to excel and strive to the best we can be."
Kate DeGood, Alma College senior, from Alma, Mich.
Kate is a biology major who plans to attend medical school and specialize in psychiatry or genetics. She is active in the College’s biology and chemistry honorary societies and is class secretary.
In dancing competition, she is a five-time U.S. champion, three-time North American champion, and two-time runner-up in the World Championships. She has more than 40 career championship titles throughout the United States, Canada, Scotland and Australia. In addition, she is a member of the British Association of Teachers of Dance (BATD) and the Scottish Dance Teachers’ Alliance (SDTA).
I chose to attend Alma College because it has an excellent pre-medical program with many opportunities for individual research with professors, which gave me an advantage when applying to medical schools. Plus I could continue dancing with Christie Freestone and stay competitive while attending college, which would otherwise be extremely challenging. —-Kate DeGood
Kate is a natural dancer, with natural ability. She’s really pulled together all the elements of dancing. She has the technique, the wonderful ability and a strong work ethic. The combination of all three things makes her an outstanding dancer.
Trisha MacConnell, Alma College senior, from San Jose, Calif.
Trisha is an exercise and health science major who plans to pursue a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree and eventually specialize in sports medicine. An outstanding student, she ranks first in her class academically and is involved in numerous academic honoraries and collaborative research projects.
She is a winner of 10 dancing championships, including the Western Regional five times. She has competed in the national championships 11 times, finishing among the top six dancers eight times. She is a two-time World Highland Dancing Championship finalist and a member of the British Association of Teachers of Dance (BATD) and the Scottish Dance Teachers’ Alliance (SDTA)
I wanted my college experience to be an opportunity to grow, and I knew that at Alma College I would have the opportunity to progress as both a dancer and a student. My Alma College experience has far exceeded my expectations. The college could not be better situated in relation to a strong dance studio. Christie’s studio is within walking distance of the college and thus taking lessons three to four times a week is common among the Alma students, an option that would not be nearly as feasible at another school.
Trisha is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. She is methodical, analytical about correcting things. She practices many hours per week, which speaks to her talent and abilities. She wasn’t a natural dancer like Kate, but she’s worked hard.
Elizabeth Fishback, Alma College sophomore, from Banks, Oreg.
Elizabeth is an exercise and health science major with plans to attend physical therapy school after graduation. She is an Honors Program participant who conducted independent research on “The Effects of a Water Aerobics Training Program on Postural Control in Older Adults.”
She is the winner of eight Highland dancing championships, including the North American. She is a five-time Northwest Regional and Pacific Northwest International Open champion, and is a 10-time representative from the Northwest Region to the national championships. Plus, she is a four-time World Highland Dancing Championship finalist, placing third in the Sword Dance in the Junior World Finals. In addition, she is an associate Highland teacher in the Scottish Dance Teachers’ Alliance.
Highland dancing has been my passion, and being able to continue dancing through college has been a dream come true. The dance studio is within walking distance of the campus, which makes it convenient for lessons and practicing. Christie and the dance families at her studio have been kind and hospitable and have contributed in making my transition to Alma a happy one.
This is Elizabeth’s first year here. She also has a strong work ethic. Her gift is she is a beautiful dancer. She combines grace and strength that is uncommon.
Cailin Wilson, Alma College senior, from Centerville, Kans.
Cailin is a biology major who plans to attend medical school. She is a student member of the Michigan Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Letters and has researched turtle activity that past two summers on Beaver Island with faculty biologist John Rowe.
She is the winner of four Scottish Highland Dance Championships, including two Southwest Regional titles. She is a 10-time representative to the U.S. nationals and finished among the top six in 2002. She also is a member in the British Association of Teachers of Dance.
Growing up in southeast Kansas, I was a student in a small rural school system. I felt the small school atmosphere at Alma College with a liberal arts program would be the best college experience for me. I was excited to be in an area with a strong Highland dance studio nearby to help further my teaching and dance skills. This would not have been feasible at other universities.
Cailin didn’t dance last year because of an injury, but two weeks before the Southwest Regional she decided to give it a try. With only two weeks practice, after not having danced competitively for more than a year, she qualified for nationals as second runner-up. That speaks to her ability. She is another hard worker, a very technical dancer, very well placed with position.
Posted: Thu, July 13th, 2006 at 4:46PM