Five decades of Falkirk dancing

Nadine Judge and Irene McKechnie run McKechnie School of Dance
Nadine Judge and Irene McKechnie run McKechnie School of Dance

When most 15-year-olds are out enjoying themselves, Irene McKechnie was instead starting up her own Highland dance school.

Little did she realise that five decades later she would still be teaching – with her daughter and grand-daughters following in her footsteps.

At the time Irene went to a dance teacher in Glasgow called William Cuthbertson, a top name in the Highland dancing world.

Irene said: “I had done competition work and had had success, but whenever anyone asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would say teach dancing.”

Her first classes took place in Central Avenue Community Centre in 1962.

Irene said: “I was too immature at that point to even look to the future.

“I was just doing what I wanted to do, but everything revolved around dancing, and always has.

“I had to get a job, but it had to be a job with weekends off so I could go to competitions at the weekend.

“Highland dancing involves a lot of sacrifice, with competitions every weekend, and two or three nights training each week.

“When I first started the dance school, I was still competing myself!”

Irene was also a TV star at the time, performing with Jimmy Shand and his Band.

When daughter Nadine was born, it seemed natural that she would follow in her mother’s dancing footsteps. However while Nadine was a keen performer, she wasn’t so eager to become a teacher.

She took part in her first competition at the age of three, and studied ballet and musical theatre at the Manor Ballet School in Edinburgh.

Nadine (36) said: “I was at competitions from when I was tiny and it was always just a part of my life.

“I didn’t want to teach though – I just wanted to dance.”

After training with Theatre School in Edinburgh for three years, Nadine had numerous jobs on cruise ships and would return during her holidays to teach classes but always returned to the stage.

However, on one of her returns 13 years ago, despite being offered a role in the ‘Rocky Horror Show’ in Germany, Nadine suddenly developed a passion for teaching and decided to stay home.

However, at first the classes weren’t so successful.

Irene said: “To begin with, it was costing money to run the classes.

“She had something like two in her ballet class and one in her tap class at the start!”

For Irene it has been a real bonus that Nadine has joined her in the business, and it’s not something she has ever forced.

Irene said: “You’ve got to want to dance, it’s got to come from inside. “You can make a child dance, but you can’t make a child dance well.”

With Nadine joining the teaching team, McKechnie was able to diversify and include ballet, tap and jazz in its repertoire.

It was also at this time the school began to hold its annual display.

Irene said: “Prior to that we just did Parents’ Evenings and competitions.

“A six step championship Highland Fling lasts approx-imately one and a half minutes – and the dancers are exhausted after it so we couldn’t manage a whole display!”

However, with other dance forms added in, they were able to put on a spectacular show.

Over the years there have been many highlights, but one of Irene’s proudest moments was seeing Nadine crowned juvenile world champion at the age of 15 at the prestigious Cowall Highland Games.

Irene, who herself won the juvenile, senior and adult world championships, said: “They read the results out in reverse order from sixth place, so when you get to the end it’s either first or nothing.

“When they announced she’d won, she came running down the stairs and was presented with the trophy and they then went on a march around the park and I didn’t see her again.

“When she re-appeared, the stands were so full that there was nowhere for her to sit so she sat on my knee and someone took a photo of us.”

Nadine added: “It’s a really treasured picture because it holds so many happy memories for us.”