The MacLeod Highland Dance Studio was established in 1953 by Helen MacLeod (nee Constable) of Paisley, Scotland. Helen Constable started out her training in Paisley, Scotland under her neighbour, Nancy Dixon. She eventually started her own school called the Douglas Troupe and had her first recital in 1945 at the age of 14. Her father, Hugh Constable made “pumps” for her, her sister Anna, and many other dancers throughout the Paisley area.
Helen continued her studies under Jamie Turpie. With Highland as her main focus, she also trained in Tap and Old-Time Ballroom. In 1948 she received her members in Highland from both the SDTA and the UKA and followed that with her Associates in Old-Time Ballroom from the UKA in 1950.
One of her fondest memories of that time was going with Mr. Turpie to the first meeting discussing the formation of the Scottish Official Board Meeting and watching James L. MacKenzie having his pictures taken for the positions and movements as featured in the first official textbook.
When she first arrived in Sault Ste. Marie in 1953, she was made welcome by a large Scottish community, amongst which there were a few Scottish Highland Dancers. Although they were dancing old steps and styles, she soon had them up to date with the current technique.
Helen taught in the rural area surrounding Sault Ste. Marie and had classes throughout a 150 miles radius of the Sault. Helen taught dancing in areas where only a limited number of activities were available and dancing opened up a new world to many children. This training gave many children the self-confidence to try other activities and even the shyest of dancers would leave her tutelage able to perform in front of any sized audience with confidence.
Helen instilled some basic life lessons.
“Give Back”…..We performed at the Seniors residences at least once a year;
“Mind your Manners”…..No one ever dared to talk back or be rude to Mrs. MacLeod as she was known.
“There’s no such word as can’t. You can if you try hard enough and keep at it”
“Everyone deserves a chance”…No one was ever turned away from lessons, whether they had disabilities, little money to pay, or didn’t have a dancer’s body, they all deserved an opportunity to learn.
She also gave great advice. “Always make your dancers leave you class happy and they’ll want to come back next week.” Which is why she often used Scottish Country Dancing to finish off a class. It instilled cooperation, paying attention to the set, learning patterns and good rhythm, and an awful lot of laughter.
She had this knack to get a child to strive harder than they could imagine learning a new step or movement. She could settle a room full of noisy teenagers with a cock of her head and a lift of an eyebrow. She never raised her voice,or spoke ill of anyone. Her soft-spoken mannerisms won the heart of everyone she met.
Helen also taught herself to make kilts, so that no child, whether they could afford it or not, would go out to a show, or do their medal examinations without a proper kilt. She outfitted many individuals and Pipe Bands including Queen’s University Band and Dancers, Algoma District, Celtic Frost, and the Local Air Cadet and Army Cadet Pipe Bands to name a few.
Helen taught many hundreds of children how to dance, and put through many teachers. She create dancers that were strong in technique, theory and the love of the dance. She always said, “any child could learn to dance -- and dance well. They just needed the opportunity”.
Helen's daughter Catherine took over the Studio in 1993. The studio has continued to produce strong dancers and teachers. In 2000, Catherine became a judge with the Royal Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing. The Studio also created a local competition- Lock City International in 2004 which provided an opportunity for dancers to compete at home without the cost and time to travel to Michigan's Lower Peninsula or Southern Ontario. This provided dancers with experience in competition many would not have been able to receive. The dancer’s now want to attend more competitions and fundraising efforts within the studio have enabled more dancers to compete throughout Michigan, Ontario and Scotland.
Following the standards set by Helen, The MacLeod Highland Dance Studio continues to give back to the community through performances at Seniors residences, events who’s proceeds go to charities such as the Alzheimer’s Society, the Cancer Society and Habitat for Humanity to name a few. The studio has also worked hard to maintain and promote Scotland’s Heritage in this small community with Robert Burn’s dinners, Ceilidhs, Celtic Christmas shows and other events strongly influenced by Scotland’s music, and dance.
Catherine has worked with the local 2310 Army Cadets and 155 Air Cadets teaching dance and snare drumming, as well as choreographing freestyle routines for Pipe Band competitions aided by her background as a competitive Pipe Band drummer with numerous bands from Southern Ontario.
All the dancer’s, whether taught by Helen or Catherine, have learned that they should dance not just for competition, but for their love of dancing, and the joy it brings to others!
Catherine recently has opened studios in Angus Ontario and Kingston, Ontario, while maintaining the MacLeod Highland Dance Studio in the Sault. The Kingston Classes will be taught by Suzanne McKenzie. The Angus Classes will be taught by Catherine. The Sault Classes will be taught by qualified students including Erin Quinton, Jessica Findlay, Heather Yanni, Daphne Dupuis and Shannon St. John. All studios will have regular classes taught by Catherine.