A real life fairytale - Winter School 2024

Winter School 2024


Rebecca Fant, recipient of a Winter School 2024 scholarship shares her experience from her time in Pitlochry


If someone had told me just over two years ago that I would be traveling to Scotland to dance in a castle, I would have told them that it was impossible. I was incapable of dancing, didn’t have a valid passport, and regardless, things like that only happen in fairytales. But that’s exactly what I experienced during my time at Winter School 2024 - a fairy tale.

I started dancing in November of 2021 after witnessing a group of local dancers perform at the Stone Mountain Highland Games in Atlanta, Georgia. By summer of 2022 I was attending local events and my first week-long event - Blue Ridge Scottish Dance School in Boone, North Carolina.  I was having so much fun. I had never met a friendlier and encouraging group of people. It’s no surprise to anyone that has been dancing for a significant amount of time, but the physical activity combined with the beautiful music was just unbeatable.

As I continued to dance, I heard the many travel stories of my friends. They had travelled across the country and across the globe. It sounded nice, but at the time unattainable for me. You see, I am a schoolteacher. While the holidays from school are generous, the cost of tuition and international flights were just a bit too much for me to realistically contemplate. Enter- Winter School 2024.

More and more of my dance friends were talking about attending Winter School in February. We had a fairly large contingent from our Southeastern region ready to go. In the famous words of my friend Hidemi- “You’re coming, right?”.  I had every reason not to go- no money, no time off from work, too many bills that needed to be paid. Except, Winter School fit perfectly into our winter holiday from school and the RSCDS Facebook page had posted a link that same day for a scholarship for dancers under 35. It seemed like it was meant to be. I applied and waited. In December, I was elated to find out that I had received a scholarship and could attend! The scholarship covered my tuition, housing, and meals. I was only responsible for my flight- I could do that!

I arrived in Glasgow 3 days before Winter School. My friends picked me up from the airport and we self-toured the city and the surrounding environs. What a time we had! Having never been to Scotland before, I was delighted to experience the warm and rich culture. We arrived in Pitlochry on Saturday and settled in a day early. Walking around town felt like something out of a movie. The quiet village surrounded by foggy hills, the stone cottages nestled into the knolls - just beautiful.

On Sunday, we checked in to the Atholl Palace Hotel. Wow!  I know we were to be dancing in a real castle later in the week, but the hotel looked like a castle unto itself!  That night I had my first taste (literally) of what to expect from our meals every night. I felt like a VIP. We had a three-course meal every night, a choice of 4-5 options for appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Everything was delicious. That night also started our dancing. I was so nervous! Something about actually dancing in Scotland at an official RSCDS event had me questioning myself, but I was soon put at ease. I was surrounded by my friends, the music was wonderful, and everyone was just ready to have fun!

Atholl Palace Hotel


The week continued in much of the same way: Breakfast, classes, afternoon activity, dinner, dancing. Our classes were lovely; my classmates - so kind and accommodating. Friendships were forged in my class that now span an ocean. Every day we were taught by a different teacher and each one brought a new and different style to their teaching. I genuinely learned something new each day and had a new appreciation for certain steps and figures. Janet’s tutelage on how to perfect the strathspey travelling step as well as her tips on properly advancing and retiring particularly stick out in my mind.

During the afternoons I was able to explore the town, buy new dance shoes, and attend a gin tasting! I was thrilled to be able to try on shoes in person - a luxury I don’t have at home. The gin tasting was particularly fun and the showmanship of the staff from Robertsons was unmatched.

Gin tasting at Winter School 2024


In the evenings, we all attended night dances. I was not used to such a packed dance floor, but that only added to the fun. Each night’s programme was curated by a different teacher and allowed their own tastes and preferences to shine. The live music was also particularly fantastic. On Wednesday, we took a respite from our normal dancing to attend the ceilidh. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this because it is a bit different in the States. Watching everyone dance was so fun (and gave me something to work on for next time). There was also a trivia contest. I am proud to say that I was the scribe for the American contingent (team name- The Yanks) and aside from the Winter School staff - we won!

Winter School 2024


By Thursday morning, I was wiped. I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough energy for our finale - the Ball at Blair Castle. My worries were unfounded. By the time dinner rolled around, I was ready to go. I was very excited to wear the dress I had made for the occasion. It is not every day a girl can say that she danced in a historic Scottish castle!  We travelled by bus to the location and when we arrived, I had chills!  It was magnificent. We exited our busses to the skirl of pipes welcoming us and entered into a warm reception area before getting ready for our Grand March into the ballroom. I am proud to say that I danced every dance, including a very fun take on the Eightsome Reel. There is only one way to describe the evening - magical. Every time I ended up next to someone I knew, we would whisper to each other: “I can’t believe this!”, “This is so cool!”. By the time we were through, I felt as though I could dance the programme another three times over. I was on cloud nine.

Winter School 2024


I left on Friday to return to Glasgow and then to Atlanta. I was exhausted, but my heart was so full. Every day was filled with laughter and learning. I genuinely had the time of my life. Going back to the “real world” after a trip like that was tough, but I know I will be back someday. I can’t thank the staff at Winter School enough. Fiona was a wonderful hostess. Her team did a fantastic job. Thank you for all your hard work and for welcoming me and the rest of our American group with open arms. To every attendee, thank you for your warm reception! I hope we can dance together again in the future. I would also be remiss if I didn’t thank the friends I have made through the Atlanta and Carolina branches over the last two years. My local dance friends have been such a blessing to me, encouraging me over the years, and helping facilitate my travel to and through Scotland. I truly dance with the best people in the world.

And to all RSCDS members, please know that your contributions helped facilitate one of the best weeks of my life - a real life fairy tale. Scottish country dancing is such an amazing hobby that stretches your body, your mind, and your heart. I am so grateful and can’t wait to make good on the amazing opportunity I was given through my continued efforts to improve and spread the love of dance.

If you are thinking about attending in the future - don’t hesitate! And to other young dancers contemplating a scholarship application- please apply! A chance like this can give you a memories that will last a lifetime.

Winter School 2024

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