SkyeDance with Cultured Mongrel

On November 5, SkyeDance held a Hip Hop workshop with Emma Jayne Park. More than 40 kids attended the event.

In a sports hall in Portree, twenty kids were standing in two lines. Some of them were on their way to grab their water bottles, others were trying the latest move they had learned in under-exaggerated motions to make sure they’d memorized it. Now reaching the end of their session, they were taking a break from the nearly two hours of learning moves from different styles such as B-boying, Popping, and Locking.

A track from the Stony Island Band, from the late 70s was playing quietly. Emma had just turned down the music so the kids could hear her question. “Can I add another move on?” Ambiguous murmurs came in reply. Emma paused for a second, before she asked with even more enthusiasm: “No? Do you not want to learn the Scooby-Doo?”

The Hip Hop workshop was organized by SkyeDance, who provide regular classes across numerous dance styles including Ballet, Contemporary, Tap and Modern. More than just learning and practicing their dance moves, the dancers are given opportunities to showcase their hard work in performances throughout the year.

SkyeDance is run by Meara O’Donnell, who not only teaches but also organises the classes and performances. As if that was not enough, Meara is simultaneously working on her MEd in Learning and Teaching in the Performing Arts at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

The idea for workshop the Hip Hop workshop came from the young dancers themselves, who raised funds with a Dancethon back in September, and more than almost 50 kids attended over three sessions. For some of the younger children, this was their first introduction to SkyeDance. By the end of the workshop, many of them were keen to take part in some of Meara’s regular classes.

“Please, get it wrong!” Emma was explaining her approach to learning and teaching to the kids. She did not want to this to be like a typical dance class, where the teacher dictated every step and the students learned the choreography to precision. Instead, she encouraged the kids to improvise, to change moves, to make them their own. Every mistake was a chance to create something new, something cool.

In fact, everything about Emma Jayne Park said cool: the bright blue Adidas trackies. The Cultured Mongrel T-shirt. And the cap and hat she flipped between, depending on the dance move or the style.

Emma had come up to Skye from Edinburgh. In 2007, she graduated from the Centre for Professional Dance Training in Edinburgh and has since lived and travelled in Scotland and through wide parts of North America and Europe, including New York City and Los Angeles. Her company Cultured Mongrel Dance Theatre is just as wide-ranging and her work covers touring work, social innovation projects, workshops, and many other strands of her work.

Not long after the Scooby-Do move, Emma gathered the kids around her to finish the class. Talking through the moves and styles they had covered, she made sure they would remember not only what they had learned, but just as importantly where Hip Hop was created. She was telling them about the groove of each style and about who the people were who first started dancing like this and the pioneers who had popularised these styles.

“These kids weren’t as lucky as us, where they lived wasn’t as nice as the Isle of Skye. They weren’t as privileged as us living here in Scotland. Make sense?”


To find out more about SkyeDance, visit

To find out more about Emma and her company, visit