Highland dancing good for life skills - teacher

19:23, Nov 14 2013
Helen McKay and highland dancers
Dancing teacher Helen McKay offers words of encouragement to her student dancers before they perform at the Tuatapere 58th consecutive annual highland dancing competition. From left, Kirsten Devery 11, Hannah Devery 12, and Alannah Skedgwell 11. Tuatapere highland dancing president Isobel Devery is at right.

Helen McKay has been teaching highland dancing in Southland for 60 years and is still going strong.

She began when she was 15 at Bluff and through the years has taught it around the region, but mostly in Tuatapere.

Currently teaching 16 Tuatapere pupils the traditional art of highland dancing, she said she was now teaching third-generation family members. "After all, Tuatapere was first settled by Scottish, Irish and English people."

She had followed her pupils' progress through life with great interest and it had given her a deep connection with the community.

"I know whole family histories. Several of the Tuatapere school principals, over the years, have asked me what is it about dancing, as I have not always taught the brightest students, but I have always taught the best students. I put it down to the discipline and self-control that is installed into my students," Mrs McKay said.

"Learning to dance enhances life opportunities, it's good character building, giving pupils the skills and stickability with whatever career path they choose to follow."


The Tuatapere Highland Piping and Dancing Association held its 58th consecutive annual highland dancing competition in the Tuatapere RSA hall at the weekend.

The competitions were started 58 years ago by Helen's father, the late Bert Hughes. The Hughes family had transferred to Bluff from Timaru in 1953, so Bert could take up a job at the Ocean Beach meatworks. Bert had been heavily involved in highland dancing competitions in Timaru.

"Dad decided that as Tuatapere already had their own Caledonian highland pipe band and I was already teaching highland dancing at Tuatapere, so why not start up a Tuatapere highland dancing competition as well. And the rest is history."

During a break in the weekend's competition, Mrs McKay was presented with a commemorative plate in recognition of the more than 58 years she has put into teaching dancing in Tuatapere. She recently received a Queens Service Medal from Governor- General Sir Jerry Mateparae for services to the Tuatapere community.

Mrs McKay said plans were afoot to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Tuatapere competitions in two years.

The Southland Times