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N.S. dance instructor breaks record at highland dancing world championship

Marielle Lespérance performs a highland dance routine at her studio in Dartmouth. (Rob Short/CBC - image credit)

Marielle Lespérance is no stranger to winning highland dancing world titles.

But this year’s victory stood out because her 11-month old daughter was in attendance.

“It meant the world that Margaux and my husband were there to watch me dance,” Lespérance said.

The annual World Highland Dancing Championships were held at the Cowal Highland Gathering in Scotland late last month.

Lespérance won her record-breaking seventh world championship in the adult division, but that may not have been the only record she broke.

Event organizers believe the Dartmouth-based dance instructor is the first mother in the 72-year-old history to win the championship.

Rob Short/CBCRob Short/CBC

“I didn’t even know if it was possible to dance a world championship and be at the level I was wanting to be at,” Lespérance said about competing as a mother.

“My focus was trying to give my best performance and making sure I was still at the standard that I wanted to be at. And I managed to do that.”

‘We’ve never seen anything like this before’

Lespérance won her first world title in the juvenile division 19 years ago.

At the 2022 competition, she won all four dances in the adult division, which featured 90 competitors.

There are three judges for each dance. Eleven out of the 12 judges had her at the top of their scorecards.

Deryck Mitchelson, the Cowal Gathering highland dancing convener, said Lespérance, 33, is a unique talent.

“We’ve never seen anybody that’s been able to continue to the same sort of age as Marielle and be so dominant,” Mitchelson said.

Mitchelson said most dancers hit their peak in their early-to-mid 20s, but Lespérance improves every year.

“She’s unflappable,” Mitchelson said. “When you see her competing she’s graceful, she’s technical, she’s got precision and she finishes her dances as strong as she starts them off, which is quite unusual.

“She makes it look so easy.”

Rob Short/CBCRob Short/CBC

Lespérance was inspired to compete in this year’s gathering after seeing new mothers have success in the recent Olympics.

Inspiring the next generation

Lespérance wasn’t the only Nova Scotian dancer on the podium at the event.

Oliva Burke, 16, from Sydney won second runner-up in the juvenile decision. She credited hard work during the pandemic and the support from the Nova Scotian dance community in helping her place for the first time.

Burke said Lespérance is a great role model for aspiring dancers in the province.

“I’ve looked up to dancers like Marielle since I was only a little dancer,” Burke said. “It was pretty amazing to be on the same stage as her.”

Lespérance’s students from her school of dance are happy that they get to learn from the record breaking world champion.

Rob Short/CBCRob Short/CBC

Alexandra Fraser has danced in Lespérance’s studio for multiple years. She says the biggest lesson Lespérance has taught her is not giving up on herself after losing a competition.

“Sometimes when I lose I get really disappointed but there is someone there to keep on going and it’s great having her congratulate me when I dance,” Fraser said.

Lespérance is excited to see younger Nova Scotians competing at a high level. She hasn’t decided if she will return to the Cowal Gathering next year but said she is satisfied with her achievements.

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