Sabra MacGillivray is one of Atlantic Canada’s leading ambassadors of Highland and Scottish step dancing. She is a champion highland dancers, a stellar step dancer and an award-winning choreographer. She combines movements that she has learned in Cape Breton step, Highland, Irish, and Flamenco. Sabra has performed and taught all over the world including Canada, United States, Scotland, Ireland, and Australia. She continues to share her love for dance, culture and tradition with her Instructional Step Dancing DVD, “Gaelic in the Feet” and with a CD project with her brother, Troy, “Highland Dancing Music from Nova Scotia”.

"Sabra MacGillivray, the glory of the world, whose subtle choreography, flawless execution and breathtaking lightness - her feet tap and kick and point but the centre of her body is still and her arms float in arabesques above - outline the finest kind of highland dancing and step-dancing you will ever see."  ~ Stephen Pedersen - Halifax Herald

Born into a very musical family, Sabra has performed with her sister, Kendra and brother, Troy all of her life, most often as a dancer, or accompanying the fiddle on piano or bodhran. She began highland dancing when she was 5 years old under the direction of Janice MacQuarrie and competed and performed as a member of the award-winning group, MacQuarrie Dancers for several years. She has her own dance documentary entitled “Steps with Sabra” which as part of a Dance Atlantic series by New Scotland Pictures.

Continue to Awards & Accomplishments


Let's Dance
Halifax-produced series, Dance Atlantic, showcases Nova Scotia's dancers

By ANDREA NEMETZ / Entertainment Reporter

DRUM! CAPTURED the rhythms of Nova Scotia and now New Scotland Picture's Dance Atlantic TV series, debuting on Monday on Bravo!, spotlights Nova Scotia's footsteps.

Each of the six half-hour episodes features a different dance style from the fiery, passionate beats of Evelyne Benais's El Viento Flamenco to the spirited, traditional leaps of Highland dancer Sabra MacGillivray and the Irish lilt of the Blackthorn Dancers.

There's also historic Acadian dance from La Baie En Joie Dancers, the unique melding of jazz, contemporary and world dance of Verve Mwendo, and Lisa Phinney's conceptual piece exploring the connections between science and art entitled Homeostatic.

"It was a long, hard process developing the series for TV," says Charlie Cahill, who produced and directed the series between July 2004 and February 2005.

Cahill, who has a long history of working with the music community, was excited about his venture into the dance community.

"They're so naturally collaborative. It's a different culture, very supportive," he said, noting Halifax-based New Scotland Pictures is the only production company in the region exclusively devoted to performing arts programming.

Last year, Cahill produced a half-hour show for Bravo! featuring Halifax contemporary troupe Mocean Dance.

"Bravo! liked it and on the basis of that, I pitched more dance half hours in which we'd feature different genres - the best of the East," he explained at a party at Soho Kitchen this week celebrating the launch of the series.

Besides Bravo! the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation contributed to the project as did CBC Atlantic, which will air some of the episodes in May or June, Cahill said.

To select the companies, he consulted with Dianne Milligan, excutive director of Dance Nova Scotia. He also met with Mocean members, including Phinney, whom he worked with in 1997 for Nova Scotia Ocean Fantasy, which featured Phinney and Sarah Rozee (another Mocean member) performing choreography by Penny Evans on Lawrencetown Beach as Rhapsody Quintet played in the background.

Cahill notes each piece in the series is conceptually different.

"We filmed Steps with Sabra in Antigonish and Halifax at the Dingle and the Inn on the Lake. It's a mix of live performance at St. Francis Xavier University and some music videos to her siblings' music.

"I call Verve Mwendo the funny episode, it was like doing an interview with Monty Python. They're a hoot and a half.

"Homeostatic has all original music by Dani Oore, it's a gorgeous episode shot at Neptune where Lisa did the live show last fall.

"La Baie En Joie was the only one we shot live to tape. Once a year they have a homecoming in Church Point and this year it was bigger because of the Congres Mondiale, so we only had one shot. In the fall we went back to interview (founder) Anne-Marie Comeau about the history of Acadian dance.

"Richard Wood, the best Irish fiddler, plays with the Blackthorn Dancers and we show off the Halifax waterfront at an Irish concert.

"We're really taking advantage of the gorgeous place we live in."

Phinney, who Cahill says has a great understanding of dance as TV, is thrilled to be part of the series.

"For me, with a new piece, it's the only way to get it seen across the country," says the Halifax dancer who is preparing to defend her thesis for her Masters degree in atmospheric science.

"Though I've done a few music videos with Charlie and been involved in the piece with Mocean Dance, this time there was way more involved.

"I directed the stage version, which was a huge first for me. It was 40 minutes long and then I had to reduce it to 24 minutes which was really complicated. I had to figure out a whole new way to present the show which was like creating a new piece."

Halifax-based Benais has been involved with two CBC documentaries, a piece with Wayne Rostad for On The Road Again, about Newfoundlanders doing flamenco, and Territoires de l'Autre for French CBC, an a show about second generation immigrants (Benais' family is from France).

She said to be in a series with other artists she enjoys watching and respects as well as being able to reach a national audience brings it to a whole other level.

One aspect that proved difficult, however, was the fact that traditional flamenco is largely improvised.

"We like to stick to that," she explained, while sneaking peeks at her colourful episode being shown on a giant screen at Soho Kitchen.

"It guarantees an authenticity as well as staying true to the spirit and spontaneity of the performance. But when you perform for the cameras, you have to perform exactly the same thing over and over."

She credits singer Sean Harris with keeping the performance spontaneous.

MacGillivray, who started Highland Dancing at five and step-dancing at 12, performed in a couple of shows for CBC as part of the MacQuarrie Dancers, Celtic Electric and the televised version of Drum!. She says she feels honoured to be a part of the series.

"I lived in Halifax when I was studying massage therapy and worked with Evelyne learning flamenco. I also did traditional Irish Step and hip hop.

"I loved working with Evelyne. Flamenco is very percussive. I was able to take the movements and incorporate them into stepdancing to give it a little twist.

For her segment, which was filmed for a day in her hometown of Antigonish and two days in Halifax, she included as much variety as possible.

"There's a waltz with my brother and sister playing - it's a Highland Dance and it's more graceful.

"Then I do a step-dance with Squid (a popular Halifax precision drum squad) which is very exciting, very high energy with the sounds of the feet mimicking the sounds of percussion.

"There's also live step-dancing with other step-dancers to a full audience in Antigonish," says the dancer who now lives in Creignish, Cape Breton, her husband's hometown and where she has a massage therapy practice.

Cahill hopes this is not the end of his televised dance producing career.

"There's a huge amount of other talent in the region and I have a number of other shows in development with dancers from other troupes and with different choreographers, who are equal in talent level."

He and Phinney are also looking into working on a BravoFact short, which Phinney calls "a beautiful little concept."

Cahill says when Bravo! came on the air in the early '90s, it ushered in an era of dance in non-traditional places.

"It used to be that when you saw dance on TV, someone had taken cameras to a live show or you saw a documentary with someone at the barre.

"Now they're doing art clips - dance in chunks, like videos with dancers."