Annual Highland Festival Celebrates Scottish Heritage
When Christie Freestone was eight years old, she took a few highland dance lessons, didn’t like it and quit.
“My grandparents were from Scotland, so my grandfather found a highland dance teacher in the Detroit area for my sister, my cousin and I,” she says. “My sister kept going. She was a champion dancer in the ‘60s, so my family went to dance competitions every single weekend.”
Already involved in highland dancing because of her sister, Freestone decided to give it another try when she was 12. Though she admits she didn’t like to practice, she stuck with it, opening her own highland dance studio as a freshman at Alma College.
Christie Freestone, right, with Alma College student Katie Crombie, five-time highland dance Great Lakes Closed Champion. A resident of Chicago, Crombie has traveled to Alma since she was 12 years old to learn from Freestone.
While the location of the studio has changed over the years, she has been teaching highland dance for about 40 years, both at her studio and, more recently, at Alma College.
Freestone, a former kindergarten teacher who teaches first grade at Ithaca South Elementary School, also teaches workshops and serves as a judge for competitions around the world.
“I love that highland dancing is a complete sport,” she says. “It’s an equal mix of art and competition. What I like most of all, though, are the life lessons that kids learn from doing this.”
This year, Freestone is the dance chairperson for the Highland Festival, a position she has held in previous years. She’s in charge of scheduling events, coordinating judges and overseeing other aspects of the highland dance competition.
“I danced at the very first festival, and I was the second dance chairperson as a freshman, so I’ve kind of watched the festival grow,” she says. “I don’t ever remember not having a Highland Festival. It’s a part of my life.”
Over the years, thousands of her students have danced at the festival, and Freestone expects about 30 more will add to that list by participating this year.
The top three dancers in each age group at the Highland Festival will represent the Midwest in the United States Highland Dance Championship.
Alma junior Alexa Gilbert, who teaches classes at Freestone’s studio, has danced in the festival nearly every year since 1998. The 2006 regional champion, she has consistently placed near the top of the competition.
“If you mention Highland Festival, everyone knows what you’re talking about,” she says. “It’s a big deal. You don’t always realize how fortunate you are to live in Alma, but I have a lot of pride for the festival.”
Though Gilbert won’t be competing at the Highland Festival this year, she plans to participate in Friday’s choreographed highland dance event.
She also is looking forward to the party at Freestone’s home the Sunday following the conclusion of the festival every year. Freestone and her husband celebrate highland dance by playing host to 75 to 100 people from eight different states.
“I love seeing my students reach their potential,” says Freestone. “Sometimes I think I believe in them more than they believe in themselves, so being able to help them along on the path to success is very rewarding.”
This year’s Alma Highland Festival takes place May 28-30. For a schedule of events and more information about the Highland Festival, please check out the official Web site.
Posted: Tue, May 18th, 2010 at 4:53PM