By Laura Jean Grant -The Cape Breton Post
PORT HOOD — A full-time job and mother of a growing young family, Mary Janet MacDonald certainly had a lot on her plate when she was first approached to teach a stepdance class almost 30 years ago.
But with widespread concerns about the decline of traditional Cape Breton fiddle and dance and at the encouragement of pianist Joey Beaton, she made time to give it a try and formed a stepdancing class in Mabou.
The result was overwhelming.
“I couldn’t keep up with the demand of all of the young people who wanted to learn,” recalled MacDonald.
Requests to take up stepdancing began to pour in and within a few months classes began popping up throughout Inverness County and MacDonald’s evenings and weekends soon became filled with teaching classes all along the Ceilidh Trail.
And she hasn’t stopped since, continuing to teach at home, across Canada and the United States, as well as Denmark and Scotland. She has also performed in countless concerts and ceildhs, as well as on television and video and is known for her close-to-the-floor style and using shoes with a hard leather sole and no taps.
Her contributions as a respected and sought-after teacher and renowned stage performer will be recognized tonight during the Close to the Floor: Mary Janet’s Bunch concert taking place at 7:30 p.m. at Strathspey Place in Mabou as part of the Celtic Colours International Festival.
“It’s really wonderful to be honoured in this way,” said Mary Janet. “It’s pretty special.”
The show quickly sold out when tickets went on sale earlier this year and the audience is in for a treat as some of the island’s finest dancers and musicians — some who taught MacDonald themselves and others who learned from her — will take the stage including Joey Beaton, Karen Beaton, D awn Beaton, Margie Beaton, Glenn Graham, Colin Watson, Maureen Fraser, Jean MacNeil and Minnie MacMaster.
“I call her my sister Minnie,” said MacDonald, who, after her own mother died was raised in her aunt, Margaret Anne Beaton’s home and quickly became part of the family’s rich music and dance traditions, learning at a young age from Margaret Anne’s daughter, Minnie.
Mary Janet will also be joined on stage by her husband, Cecil and six of her seven children — Tammy, Brennan, Gordie, Kelly, Krista and Mitchell (Margie is unable to make the show) — who all learned the art of stepdancing from their mom.
Fiddling legend Buddy MacMaster, another significant influence on MacDonald and her dancing, was scheduled to perform in the show but is unable to take part for health reasons.
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