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Young Cape Bretoner wins highland dance world championship in Scotland

Olivia Burke, 17, of Coxheath, Cape Breton, is the first Nova Scotian-born highland dancer to win at the world championships in Dunoon, Scotland's Cowal Gathering. (Contributed by True Burke  - image credit)
Olivia Burke, 17, of Coxheath, Cape Breton, is the first Nova Scotian-born highland dancer to win at the world championships in Dunoon, Scotland's Cowal Gathering. (Contributed by True Burke - image credit)

Olivia Burke, 17, of Cape Breton is the first Nova Scotian-born highland dancer to win at the world championships in Dunoon, Scotland.

Burke placed first in three of her four dances, snagging the top spot in her age division at the Cowal Gathering, which bills itself as the largest highland games in the world.

"I have been training for this my whole life," said Burke in an interview with CBC on Tuesday, after she returned from Scotland to her home in Coxheath, N.S.

Burke has been dancing since the age of four, and practices on average about six times per week. Her dance teacher and aunt, Kelly MacArthur, says from a young age, Burke's dedication and discipline set her apart.

"I always knew she had it in her because she always had a little bit of everything. It was just … the drive that separates her from other dancers," said MacArthur.

Olivia Burke celebrates with her dance teacher, and mother, who are sisters are winning the World Championship in Dunoon, Scotland.
Olivia Burke celebrates with her dance teacher, and mother, who are sisters are winning the World Championship in Dunoon, Scotland.

Olivia Burke celebrates with her dance teacher Kelly MacArthur, left, and mother True Burke, centre, who are sisters. They're pictured after Olivia won the world championship highland dance title in her age group in Dunoon, Scotland, over the weekend. (Submitted by True Burke)

MacArthur said it was both Burke's attitude and stamina that got her to the top. While Burke credits MacArthur's principle of 'practicing smart' in helping her avoid injuries.

MacArthur says the sacrifices of time and money it takes to compete mean not every dancer with the skills has the means to compete at this level.

Burke says competing on the world stage doesn't come without a degree of privilege. She said her parent's support with both attending practices and financing travel were pivotal in her chances to compete.

"[They] allow me to go to all of the competitions that I want to. They take me to national championships, and they take me to Scotland every year.… I'm very lucky," she said. "It's really important to me that they know that I really couldn't do this without them."

Kelly MacArthur is Olivia's Aunt and dance teacher.
Kelly MacArthur is Olivia's Aunt and dance teacher.

Olivia's aunt gives her a congratulatory kiss. (Submitted by True Burke )

She said her support network is not just important in the physical aspects of making it to competition, but in the mental aspects as well. In some cases, she said her father would wake up at 2 a.m. Nova Scotia time, because of the time difference, to wish her good luck before she danced in Scotland.

Burke also described her relationship with her aunt and dance teacher, as unwavering.

"She's always there for me, making sure that I feel comfortable before I walk on stage," she said. "Assuring me that I can do this, and that I am ready to do this."

At the World Championships on Saturday, MacArthur said she knew Burke had the trophy when they announced the results of the final dance, the Strathspey and Reel of Tulloch. It marked Burke's third ranking of first place.

"That can't be beat … when they said first, Olivia Burke, #744, we immediately knew she had just won the world championship," said MacArthur.

They said tears were shed as the reality of the win set in.

"I could see my aunt and teacher bawling her eyes out, even my mom, and she doesn't cry. She was crying," she said.

She said the moment was overwhelming with joy.

"I was just very proud of myself in that moment.… I finally did it. I just won the world's."

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