The New Zealand Academy of Highland and National Dancing

Highland Dance Company of NZ Germany Trip - Day 9 - 1st Feb 2014

Today started out as per usual with an early start, buffet breakfast and a long bus trip dotted with games of Mafia, which escalated in both creativity and in madness. Our last day of sight-seeing was definitely a rewarding one. The picturesque city of Dresden was rebuilt from the ashes of World War II and is said to be the most beautiful of all of Germany's cities.

Dresden is just so different to the rest of Germany. It is picturesque and has the air of perfection. in the centre of town is the Frauenkirche, a Protestant church. Photos are not permitted inside the church but no photo could really capture the atmosphere that the beauty of the alter created. The colour scheme of mint green, pastel pink, blue and yellow were set off by the gold plated statues and lettering. those of us who caught the midday church service agree that the Lords Prayer is the first time we've heard German sound loving and soft. We attempted to sing the German hymn, managing to pronounce 99% of it wrong.. But our mistakes were drowned out by the beautiful organists music.

The rest of Dresden was also beautiful; the cobbled streets and stone bridges and archways could have come to life from any 14th century fairy story! We've all been wondering how anyone could hope to wear high heels on such roads!

While the more religious members of the team managed to catch a church service, the rest of us explored the city with cameras at the ready. Four of us even managed to find an ice skating rink where Sam and Sarah Gluyas strutted their stuff on the ice as Danielle and Lewis clung onto the rails for grim death - not our most co-ordinated of moments. Shirana and Jayden also managed to get in on the action with a series of slides next to the rink where they got some awesome footage for the video of this trip (spoiler alert!) Then, true to our nature, after a rather exhilarating experience we turned to the nearest shopping mall and shopped up quite a storm with the majority of the team finding a few christmas decorations for next year which were hand crafted in Dresden itself. Unfortunately we missed the Christmas market which is said to be spectacular, but a certain shop next to the Hilton Hotel was home a variety of handcrafted wooden and glass decorations which are sure to be a hit back home.

Another amazing day over, we once again piled back on the bus (many of us sleeping the entire way) and arrived back just in time for dinner. Having shopped up quite a storm, many of us then tried a variety of ways to creatively rearrange our suitcases while debating how many layers of clothing it is justifiable to wear at one time - I bet many of us are glad for the 30 kg baggage allowance on Singapore airlines! After packing our bags the best we could, we managed to catch an early night in preparation for the parade starting again tomorrow.

Gut Nacht
Niamh and Danni

Highland Dance Company of NZ Germany Trip - Day 7 - 31st Jan 2014

The Highland Dance company awoke to a delicious buffet breakfast that included the usual range as well as the added bonus of hot chocolates. With full tummies and our minds set for today's activities, we ventured out into the bitter cold of Berlin only to find that we just missed our bus. Fortunately for the team the buses ran every 20mins so we were soon back on track. From here we caught a train to meet our tour guides for the Concentration Camp Tour. To our disappointment we missed the Hogwarts express of 9 3/4 but settled for the double decker train on platform 8.

Three trains and two buses later, we arrived at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Our exceptional tour guides explained to us the history behind this camp and incites into how horrifying life at the camp was. Sachsenhausen was set up for mainly political prisoners however was soon used to house Jews and many others. After the WW2 it was also used by the Soviets. It is said that over 200000 men were imprisoned here under the nazi regime.

For us, this experience/ visit can be summed up by one word; Chilling.

Firstly, just walking and being in such a place as this really shakes you to the core. It really contextualises what we have read about in books. actually seeing their conditions and facilities was very shocking.

Secondly, we were exposed to the real cold of Berlin for the first time. With a tempeture of about -5 and a freezing wind, we were struggling to stay warm. For many of us it was the first time we had been in such freezing conditions. On reflection we were also ill prepared and it was decided more layers and better shoes would be needed to endure the weather here in Berlin.
However we found that the cold conditions helped us to grasp one aspect of how horrid it would have been for the men here.

Upon returning to Berlin we headed straight to the mall for some much needed retail therapy to lift our sprits and escape from the cold. Show and tell later, confirmed that many purchases were made. Coats, scarfs and Zara featured heavily.

After eating dinner in the food court, we started our trek home. The first hiccup on the way was when our train stopped at a station for an uncharacteristically long time. We obviously sat in our carriage which had been disconnected as only the front half of the train was continuing on. thankfully we were informed in time. The next issue we faced is that it turns out the the map with the walking route from the station back to hotel lead through a park with was covered in snow as well as the astrics marking the hotel was no where near where the hotel actually is located. in short, we got lost. having walked down a dead end to a rest home, waving down a car for directions and calling the reception twice, finally a hour and a half later we found our way home to the hotel. I have never been more thankful for heating.

Sarah and Nicole

Highland Dance Company of NZ Germany Trip - Day 8 - 31st Jan 2014

Checkpoint Charlie Bike tour and Beer hall day

Today we saw Beyoncé and my life is complete.

Just kidding. But we did see Ban-Ki Moon (the UN Secretary General for those of you who have never heard of the name (probably most of you)) walking into the Aldon Hotel, the famous one out of which Michael Jackson dangled his baby.

This was seen amongst many other famous Berlin sights during the bike tour that most of the now-footless-from-frostbite dancers took with Fat Tyre Bike Tours, or a bus tour that the Mums, the Directors, and Sarah G and Shirana took to try to survive the cold, but to no avail.

With a high of -7 degrees, it was almost impossible to keep even a finger warm, but we enthusiastically mounted our bikes and took off to see one of the most amazing cities in Europe. We soon learned that even though the buildings looked as old as Sara, these were only rebuilt versions of the originals after around 80% of the city was bombed in the War. Checkpoint Charlie, parts of the Berlin Wall still standing, the Imperial Palace, Hitler's Bunker, the Jewish Memorial, Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag Building, Museum Island and the site of the Nazi book burning were some of the things that impressed us, along with our tour guide's great knowledge of the city's history.

It seemed that we had had enough of old things by mid afternoon, and needed some new things so we headed to KaDeWe, the biggest mall in Europe housing some of the best brands, including the only Topshop and Topman in Germany. Even though we only had an hour there we managed to help out the German retail economy a little and thaw our frozen noses and fingers.

For dinner we met up with the band and went to a traditional German beer hall named HofBraü Haus to have some local delicacies such as pork knuckle and a stein.

Now that we knew how far the hotel was from the train station we were not keen to have to walk home again, so taxis were ordered and everyone was soon in bed in anticipation for what else Germany would bring us.

Lewis Gibson

Highland Dance Company of NZ Germany trip - Day 6 - 28th Jan 2014

We are on a 7 hour road trip to Berlin, the first day of our break between performing both weekends.
The first weekend of Musikparade with 4 performances in 4 different cities has been an amazing experience for us all.

The company has rallied around Shirana after such devastating bad luck for her at the opening show, and she is still very much a part of the team and now chief hair dresser and make up artist!

The response to our item from the Musikparade producers and German public has been extremely complimentary, with very positive remarks on the quality of our dancers and their professionalism and discipline.
Our item is the first of the overseas guest performances, where we enter the arena marching within the ranks of the Celtic Pipe Band, with very effective lighting and smoke effects.

After taking our position in the centre of the Arena, at the end of the march on tune, there is a moments silence before the haunting Karanga, performed by Sara, wearing our beautiful new company Korowai, which was recently donated by Sara and Kate. Sara then passes over the Korowai to Crystel Benton, who has joined us from the Netherlands to perform with us. Many of you will remember Crystel, a Highland dancer originally from Blenheim and who studied music at Otago and is now making a career as a professional opera singer in Europe.
Crystel gives a spine tingling rendition of Pokare Ana, joined by the pipe band in the 2nd and 3rd verse, whilst Sara and Kate dance in the long skirts with lights.

Following this Maori segment, the band moves into their 4 minute medley as our dancers perform choreography adapted from NZ Dancing Feet showcasing their technical prowess with interesting formations and patterning.
After taking the applause at the end of the medley,the band plays a verse and chorus of the popular German folk song Wooden Heart, as the dancers strike into an encore to an overwhelming response from the audience.
We have been blown away by the size of the arenas we have been performing in, with crowds of between 4000-7000 each night.

The overall visual appeal of our Red Hot costumes combined with the Band in their Braveheart tartan and red shirts and Crystel in her stunning red evening gown, is very effective.
The daily schedule is demanding , but we are very proud how everyone is coping. Team spirits are positive and bright with much laughter, and also enjoying getting to know the band members.
We are performing with a smaller company this tour, but are confident we are still making a big impact!
Remember to check our photos in the Gallery.... We will keep sending them through in the next week.
Julie and Robyn

Highland Dance Company of NZ Germany Trip - day 5 - 27th Jan 2014

Today was the last performance of the first leg of our tour. We were back in Russelsheim last night to stay at the same hotel as the first night, this meant the return of the all you can eat buffet for breakfast which we were happy about. However the rookie mistake of sitting next to Kate Wills - who dictates who writes the blog - consigned the dynamic duo of Sam and Angus to recording the teams activities for the day.

Our performance was in Frankfurt at the Festhalle Arena. This was only a short drive from the hotel so the company was afforded a bit of a sleep in which was much appreciated. We had the first rehearsal slot so were able to get that out of the way after the laser show had finished being set up.

Many members of the Company had hoped to get some shopping in at a nearby mall between the rehearsal and the show. However, unfortunately most shops are closed on a Sunday in Germany so we had to settle for coffee instead. The coffee drinkers in the company have found it frustrating not being able to get a decent flat white.

After this we were back to the arena for lunch and to prepare for the afternoon show. In the build up to the show the company engaged in some team building via the card game mafia. We have since learned that Kate does not only like games, but will ruthlessly crush anyone who stands between her and victory.

After a strong performance by the team we all stood to take our bow and receive the adoring crowds applause. All of us that is, except for Sarah Gluyas, who decided she urgently needed to be somewhere and left the rest of the team behind on stage.

On the way back to the hotel we were dropped off by the bus driver Stephan at a Chinese buffet for dinner, which was greatly enjoyed by the team. We now all retire to bed, excited for a few days off in Berlin. Stand by for cliched tourist stories about our adventures in the German capital.
Sam and Angus

Highland Dance Company of NZ Germany trip - day 3 - 26th Jan 2014

Highland Dance Company of NZ Germany trip - day 3 Day three bring on the drama.
After a night full of spooning due to an administration error at the hotel, the day started with some bad news. There was no buffet for breakfast. The bad news just kept getting worse when Shirana’s sprained ankle X-ray showed fractured bone. She showed a lot of strength getting through a performance on a broken foot last night, such a trooper! The team rehearsed in the morning and had some free time to walk to the Cologne Dom (An extremely large cathedral that survived World War Two bombings) and the home to the bones of the three Magi (the three wise men). Fun fact for the day, the Cathedral is as old as Sara Simmons. Running back to be on time for the finale rehearsal, the team stopped by at a bakery to taste the amazing treats Germany has to offer. The team loves the Chococroissants! After tonight’s performance, described as breathtaking, the team analyzed the ipad recording to see who had the biggest parallels. It was a very close call between Leighton and Jayden. Andrea the co-ordinator (or scarfman) was very complimentary of the dance company going so far to say he was proud of us and this was the best Muiskparade in 10 years. Tomorrow we have a well-deserved sleep in and then travel to Wetzler for another performance. Julie has enforced a “stretch before dinner” policy to ensure no further injuries, the boys might be going hungry. To finish tonight’sblog here is an interesting fact regarding one of our team members, Kate Wills doesn’t like games.
From the land of sausage and windmills,
Jayden and Leighton 

Highland Dance Company of NZ Germany trip - Day 4 - 26th Jan 2014

After we dodged a 6am start we joyfully waltzed into breakfast. We didn’t get to have a rehearsal so troopround up to board the bus wasn’t until 10am. It was a fairly routine bus ride until excitement struck about half an hour into the adventure when we discovered the road was surrounded by snow. Upon arrival we were ravished and excited to have the best lunch of the trip so far which consisted of mystery meat, veggies, basil pesto pasta, and a salad, as well as a selection of three yummy flavours of mousse. At 3pm the music began and the two Sarah’s and four of the boys stumbled their way onto the parade for the opening ceremony. The battle of the bands between Bulgaria and the Ukraine started while we waved each of the two countries flags according to who was playing. All was well until we let the surrendering flag fly too early- before they had “made peace”. After completing this mishap we sprinted round the back to meet the others for the main performance. We can happily say the third performance of the trip went well, minus Jayden and his centre stage whoopsie. After yesterday’s semi light-hearted threat of getting Shirana’s injection (for her foot) -in a place not appropriate to mention- if we did not warm down, we all decided it was a good idea to stretch. This session was run by the one-and-only, Leighton Terry who kindly expressed the importance of talking to our muscles. During the 2hour break in between our performance and the closing ceremony, we were all of a sudden treated to a ballroom lesson by the show host while waiting backstage.
The show finished with a bang, literally, and we were lucky enough to squeeze in a quick team photo with the backdrop before it was taken to the next arena. Now here we are at 9:45pm after an hour and a half bus ride back to the same hotel we stayed at on the first night. This time we are with our own beds and lucky enough to have our first early night. We look forward to our last performance before our 3 days off in Berlin. Right now we are enjoying a nightcap of Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough and Chocolate fudge brownie.
Shirana’s foot is still broken.  . But looking forward to hopefully getting a moonboot when we get to Berlin.
Shirana& Sarah G.

Highland Dance Company of NZ - Germany trip day 2 - 24th Jan 2014

After a somewhat restful sleep, Robyn and Julie quickly woke us up with an early morning rehearsal. Outside. With a European breakfast of bread, meats and cheese under our belts, we set off for lovely Koblenz for our rehearsal in the arena. After being shown to our changing rooms and watching a few items, it was our turn to tread the boards and space our steps. With a few "subtly" noted mistakes (we jest) we were hurried off the arena floor to a much anticipated lunch of roast pork or beef pattie.

Among the acts, the Netherlands' haka was definitely an interesting talking point. Although a little perturbed to begin with, we soon found out that the All Blacks are quite the sensation and any opportunity to whip out a haka is gladly taken (perhaps in our next choreography?).

Hair, make up and costuming complete, we were amped up, warmed up and ready for action. As the second act it wasn't long before we were marching out with the pipe band. Our first show went off with a bang. However, unfortunately, it also claimed our first casualty: Shirana rolled her ankle but finished the dance like a champion. She will hopefully be back dancing tomorrow.

After a long wait (and dinner) it was time for the finale, in which we brandished flaming torches followed by some artful flag-waving to rapturous applause. A long day finished, we were back in the bus to travel to Koln to our hotel, to get some much needed rest before our performance tomorrow. This is the 'big one' with an audience almost double the 2000 strong crowd we saw tonight - wish us luck!

Niamh and Danni

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