Alma’s highland dancers perform in some of the world’s most prestigious cultural events, furthering Alma’s distinction as offering one of the best highland dance programs in the world.
Highland dance has long been a part of Alma College’s Scottish tradition — a distinction that sets the college apart from most other small private institutions. Alma is one of the few colleges in the United States that offers collegiate-level highland dancing courses and opportunities for performance, competition and training for professional teaching and judging.
Alma’s highly skilled dancers also perform at some of the world’s most prestigious events.
Since 2015, three Alma College dancers — Matilda Ennis ’18 and sisters Katie ’16 and Jennifer Ochs ’20 — have performed in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the most well-known annual cultural performance in Scotland. During the month of August, highland dancers perform nightly at the Edinburgh Castle in front of audiences totaling nearly 220,000.
Prior to 2015, only dancers from British Commonwealth countries were eligible to perform at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Matilda, Katie and Jennifer were among the first Americans invited to dance as part of the program.
“I’ve had so many amazing experiences as a result of highland dance,” says Katie Ochs. “Some of my best memories include traveling to Scotland with my sister to perform at Edinburgh. Traveling all across the country with my family to competitions and the many friends that I’ve made at those competitions also have been great experiences.”
“I met many wonderful people while performing at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo,” says Jennifer Ochs. “This experience allowed me to meet people from around the world and embrace entirely different cultures while there.”
Jennifer Ochs continues to perform with Alma’s Kiltie Dance troupe, while Katie Ochs is now an accountant at Weyerhaeuser’s Corporate Headquarters in Seattle. Due to a series of torn ligaments and sprained ankles since graduating, Katie only recently resumed dancing competitively and has won numerous competitions in that time.
Ennis competed in summer 2018 in the world championship at the Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, Scotland. She is currently sharing her love of dance with pre-kindergarteners in the Philadelphia area. Once a week, she teaches a 30-minute dance and creative movements class.
“They absolutely love it,” says Ennis. “A lot of research has indicated the positive effects of dancing as a means of teaching patterns, spacial awareness, fitness and such.”
Two additional Alma dancers — Emily Carter ’19 and Emily Brubaker ’19 — have participated in the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. This weeklong event is sanctioned by Queen Elizabeth II and is the world’s largest indoor tattoo performance.
“Dancing in the Royal Nova Scotia has provided me with some of my favorite experiences,” says Carter, a three-time invitee who was the only American on the team during her first year. “I love how dancers from all around the world can come together to put on an amazing show for thousands of people.”
Following graduation, Carter aspires to become a certified athletic trainer and highland dance instructor. She also wants to open her own dance studio one day.
Alma College Kiltie Dancers have consistently excelled at the regional, national and international levels. Past Kiltie Highland Dancers have included three world champions, four national champions, over a dozen dancers who have placed in the top six nationally, 10 regional champions, with hundreds of combined championship titles. Many former Kiltie Dancers now direct studios of their own and have produced national representatives and champion dancers.
“Our program is strong because of the strength of our dancers,” says program coordinator Kate DeGood Cassidy ’07. “We’ve continued to grow and improve because we recruit dedicated dancers who are interested in the continued growth and success of highland dance.”