Aztec games feature first dance competition

Annual festival continues through Sunday at Riverside Park

Hannah Grover

AZTEC — While highland dance troupes have performed at the Aztec Highland Games and Celtic Festival in the past, this year they were judged in a competitive style.

The annual highland games started today and will continue Sunday at Riverside Park in Aztec.

Jackie Murphy, left, Sophia St. John and Sheri Voelsch go over their routine Saturday before competing in the Aztec Highland Games and Celtic Festival at Riverside Park in Aztec.

Emma Trentman, a highland dance teacher from Albuquerque, helped organize the dance competition. She said the dancers are judged 80 percent on technique, 15 percent on deployment and 5 percent on timing.

Trentman also brought some of her students to dance in the competition. Abigail Baca, 12, was one of them.

The students had different dances that they performed. Baca’s favorite dance is known as the Flora McDonald Fancy, which is performed in honor of a Jacobite heroine who tried to smuggle Bonnie Prince Charlie into Scotland disguised as a maid during a rebellion in the 1700s.

“It’s, like, really graceful, and I like a lot of the movement,” she said.

All of the dances are challenging, Trentman said. They require the performers to hop around on one foot for more than a minute while doing complicated foot work with the other foot.

Morgan Crawford, a member of the Westward Pipes and Drums, marches with other performers Saturday during the Aztec Highland Games and Celtic Festival at Riverside Park in Aztec.

“The dances were originally used for battle training,” Trentman said.

But while the dances are difficult, the performers strive to make them look easy, she said.

The dance competition was one of the new features at the annual games. People attending the Aztec Highland Games and Celtic Festival this weekend also have a unique chance to vote for the city’s tartan – a plaid pattern used on kilts and other fabrics.

Bagpipers march during the opening ceremony Saturday at the Aztec Highland Games and Celtic Festival at Riverside Park in Aztec.

All it takes to cast a vote is placing money in a jar representing the different patterns.

Mayor Sally Burbridge was at the highland games today manning the welcome booth where the tartan patterns are displayed. She said the money raised will help pay to register the tartan pattern.

A website keeps track of the different registered tartans and ensures that the tartan chosen by Aztec will be unique.

She said that in Scotland, tartans were used to represent clans, or family groups. The colorful designs were created using dyes created from plants native to the region where the clans lived.

Nathan Lindeburg competes in the hammer throw Saturday during the Aztec Highland Games and Celtic Festival at Riverside Park in Aztec.

Keeping with that spirit, Aztec Highland Games committee members tried to design patterns that reflected Aztec in some way. For example, one of the tartans was created based on the colors in the river valley at sunset.

“It’s just a fun activity,” Burbridge said about the tartan contest. “But it also creates a unique identity.”

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.