Not being Irish to any significant degree, I don’t recall seeing any Irish dance or even hearing about it until the mid-’90s. If you think back, you’ll probably remember the one word that changed everything: Riverdance. But, the Irish dance phenomenon spearheaded by Michael Flatley almost 20 years ago is just the tip of the curly-headed iceberg.
The McLeary School of Irish Dance celebrated the ancient history of the tradition on May 25, when they held a year-ending performance of their students. The Leduc, AB institution uses the yearly performance to raise funds for dance costumes, since a new costume can cost as much as $400.
Irish dance likely grew in relation to traditional Irish music and may have roots in pre-Christian Ireland. Dance instructors traveled to teach all over the country as late as the early 1900s. Actual dance schools began to form, even outside of Ireland, frequently in urban communities with a strong Irish heritage.
Irish stepdancing is, in itself, a particular form of Irish dance which includes its own divisions. Solo dances are categorized based on the type of shoes dancers wear, either hard or soft. Reel, slip jig, light jig and single jig dances are all done in soft shoes, while hornpipe and treble jig dances are done in hard shoes.
The Irish Dancing Commission began as an offshoot of The Gaelic League in 1930 to regulate all Irish dance activities, including competitions and certifying dance teachers.
Jessica Laird, owner and operator of the McLeary School of Irish Dance, has almost 30 years of experience in the art form and is accredited by the commission and an active member of the Western Canadian Irish Dance Teachers Association. Laird says of the year-end performance that she “always enjoys watching the young beginning dancers perform for the first time on stage in front of a large audience.”
Laird and The Leduc Irish Dance Parents Association promoted the event through Facebook and word of mouth, with the latter working best to get people to the event. Since this is an annual event, Laird says that “planning is now down to a science,” but she does have solid guidance for other organizers.
“I would advise people to write down the planning process,” Laird says. Planners should make note of “who was contacted and for what purpose, volunteer names, timing of calls, pickups, deliveries [and other things] so there is a reference for the next year.”