Markham sisters Chloé and Camille Gilbert never expected to visit let alone perform in China but, together with their dance group ‘Celtic Energy’ from the Irish Dance Studio in Newmarket, they did just that.

In March 2017, 12 competitive dancers aged between 11 and 18 years old set off to China with teachers Joanne Vanderloo and Yvonne Kelly, accompanying parents and some siblings. Chloé and Camille, in grade six and eight respectively, have been dancing for over eight years and worked their way up to the North American Championship level. Competitions have led them to various cities in the U.S. and Canada, but this latest trip was unique in more ways than one.

The League of Astonishing Strings, a U.S. based organization known to create cultural and performance opportunities for emerging artists, contacted Irish Dance Studio. The studio’s dancers were invited to accompany a young (9-18 years) string-performance ensemble from Tennessee called Music City Strings, in a 10-day performance and sight-seeing tour of China.

“Preparing for the trip meant rehearsals above and beyond regular practice hours, with most dancers committing to a minimum of 18 hours a week,” says Vanderloo.

A total of five shows were scheduled and organized by Culture Path Ltd. From Shanghai Oriental Art Centre, one of the most prestigious concert halls in China, the team went on to dance at the Lantian Grand Theatre in Keqiao, the Zhili Grand Theatre in Boading and the Beijing National Library Concert Hall. The dancers also performed at the Hebei Arts College in Shijiazhuang for a concert and cultural exchange with the students. The team got to experience the extent of the popularity of Irish dancing in China. “They treated us like royalty,” says Chloé.

While the schedule was gruelling, the tour allowed for visiting local attractions such as the Great Wall of China, Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City among others.

“Had this opportunity not come up, we would never have gone to China. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” says Susan Durfy, mother of the two sisters. “Seeing them perform, standing on the Great Wall of China with my kids, the experience was incredible.”

The young dancers returned home March 26.  “Not many kids my age get to do what we did. It was definitely a trip of a lifetime that I will never forget,” adds Camille.

To see their talent live, the Irish Dance Studio will perform its year-end recital on June 18 at the Newmarket Theatre. Visit www.newtix.ca for upcoming details.

Photo: Sisters Chloé and Camille Gilbert on the Great Wall of China.