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Last month, Darrah Carr described the intense competition circuit of Irish dancing that produces highly trained performers and is an important force in the evolution of its intricate steps. Winners of the Oireachtas--regional competitions held nationwide--maintain heavy practice schedules and face increased pressure as returning champions, due to the higher standards for competition that have developed in the last five to ten years. While some observers have postulated pos·tu·late  
tr.v. pos·tu·lat·ed, pos·tu·lat·ing, pos·tu·lates
1. To make claim for; demand.

2. To assume or assert the truth, reality, or necessity of, especially as a basis of an argument.

 that Broadway shows featuring Irish dance Irish dances come in several forms, which can broadly be divided into social dances and performance dances. Irish social dancing can be divided further into céilí and set dancing.  have challenged existing standards of technical proficiency, others claim that the artistry was already there; the difference is in Irish dance's newfound new·found  
Recently discovered: a newfound pastime.

Adj. 1. newfound - newly discovered; "his newfound aggressiveness"; "Hudson pointed his ship down the coast of the newfound sea"
 exposure and accessibility.

At the 2000 Eastern Regional Oireachtas in Philadelphia last November, many dancers, teachers and adjudicators maintained that the steps done by an individual competitor are more complex than those done by the line of dancers in Riverdance or Lord of the Dance. One reason for this is that dancers in a show must execute steps in perfect unison, hence the sequences are more repetitive. The powerful effect of unison movement and the speed with which show steps are performed makes the choreography visually exciting to the audience. Mary Lou Schade, the founder of the Schade Academy in New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
, explains, "Audiences appreciate faster feet. Even when we do school performances, we speed up the music. In Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, the music is very fast, so it makes the steps look very difficult. In competitive dancing, on the other hand, there are regulated tempi tem·pi  
A plural of tempo.
. For example, the hornpipe hornpipe, English folk dance known since the 16th cent., when it obtained its name from the wind instrument that accompanied it. The hornpipes of the 17th and 18th cent. have moderate 3–2 time and 4–4 time.  must be danced between 112 and 116 [beats per minute beats per minute Cardiac pacing The unit of measure for the frequency of heart depolarizations or contractions each minute–or pulse rate ]. At that speed, you can fit more intricate material into a bar of music."

Thus, in competitive dancing, tempi stay the same while the material escalates in difficulty. Karen Petri, co-founder of the New York-based Petri School, describes this tendency as "an inevitable competitive evolution," and explains, "If you look back in time, you can trace the escalation of the technique. Fifty to seventy-five years ago, they used to dance low to the floor, and they didn't stand as stiffly, either." Mary Kay Mary Kay is a brand of skin care and color cosmetics sold by Mary Kay Inc. Mary Kay World Headquarters is located in the Dallas suburb of Addison, Texas. Mary Kay Ash (d. November 22, 2001) founded Mary Kay Inc. on Friday, September 13, 1963.  Henegan, founder of the Rince Na Tiarna School of Irish Dance in Buffalo, New York (whose team dancers won an amazing a·maze  
v. a·mazed, a·maz·ing, a·maz·es
1. To affect with great wonder; astonish. See Synonyms at surprise.

2. Obsolete To bewilder; perplex.

 thirteen first places, two second places and one third place in the sixteen competitions they entered), also attributes this noticeable escalation to the nature of competition in general. "Once you make dance competitive, you have to consider what to do to make your dancer stand out," Henegan said. "There is the sense of keeping up with the Joneses "Keeping up with the Joneses" is a popular catchphrase in many parts of the English-speaking world. It refers to the desire to be seen as being as good as one's neighbours or contemporaries using the comparative benchmarks of social caste or the accumulation of material goods. , which applies to both the increase in technical difficulty of the steps as well as the increasingly elaborate costumes."

Fifteen-year-old Meghan Reilly, a five-time Oireachtas winner from the Peter Smith School in New Jersey, echoes Henegan's sentiments and notes the parallels between step development and costume design Costume design is the design of the appearance of the characters in a theater or cinema performance. This usually involves designing or choosing clothing, footwear, hats and head dresses for the actors to wear, but it may also include designing masks, makeup or other unusual forms, . She remarks, "The demand of winning pushes teachers to think of something new, so the steps are constantly evolving. It's the same thing with the costumes. You never would have seen a fluorescent-yellow dress before. Everything has become more eye-catching." Theresa Wall, a 21-year-old dancer from the New York-based Verlin School who has won the Oireachtas six times, agrees: "Times change; things become more modern and more elaborate. Before, my mom would've just made my costume!" (Dancers who win in their age category typically speak of "winning the Oireachtas," though they haven't won the whole event.)

As the pressure and the practice hours have increased, costumes have become ever more elaborate--and expensive. A female costume replete re·plete  
1. Abundantly supplied; abounding: a stream replete with trout; an apartment replete with Empire furniture.

2. Filled to satiation; gorged.

 with embroidered em·broi·der  
v. em·broi·dered, em·broi·der·ing, em·broi·ders
1. To ornament with needlework: embroider a pillow cover.

 Celtic designs can cost up to $1,500, while a pair of hard shoes costs over $100. Furthermore, beyond the regional Oireachtas there exists an entire international competition circuit that attracts many of these champion dancers. It is not uncommon for dancers at the top levels to attend one or more of the following annual events: the Nationals, the All Scotlands, the All Irelands As an attributive, All Ireland emphasises the entire island of Ireland, as opposed to either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. In Irish Republicanism, the expression 32-county is often used instead: 32 as distinct from the 26 counties of the Republic and the remaining 6 , the Great Britains, the British Nationals and the World Championships.

In May another competition will be introduced to the circuit, the European Step Dance Championships, this year in Barcelona, Spain. Donny Golden, founder of the Golden School in New York, explains the importance of obtaining results: "Today, there are so many more options for kids to pursue that if one is going to put time and money into Irish dance, one wants to see progress. Before, when Irish dance was more of a social and cultural activity, it was like your religion--you had to go; it wasn't about if you chose to go or not."

Today, more people than ever before are choosing to attend Irish dance class. In the past five years, schools across the board have enjoyed huge jumps in enrollment since Riverdance and Lord of the Dance catapulted Irish dance to the forefront of public attention. Increased public awareness and appreciation of the form have also led to a diversification of the ethnic backgrounds of Irish dance's practitioners. Christina Ryan, founder of the Ryan School in Pennsylvania, estimates that up to two-thirds of her students aren't of Irish descent.

The sharp spike in enrollment has somewhat tapered ta·per  
1. A small or very slender candle.

2. A long wax-coated wick used to light candles or gas lamps.

3. A source of feeble light.

 off, however. Patsy McLoughlin, co-founder of the McLoughlin School in New York and New Jersey, explains, "Some of the new students might have come in and thought they would automatically look like the Irish dancers on television. When they realized this would take years to occur, they lost interest."

Nevertheless, for many others the televised programs have served as a large motivational factor. Mary Kay Henegan remarks, "Riverdance has put a picture in a kid's mind of what he or she could be. Now a child can pop in a video and watch incredible world champions fly around the stage, and say: That is what it should look like. It is a very powerful visual image. The term `Riverdancing' has become its own genre, like `Xeroxing.'"

Regardless of whether these newcomers become champion dancers or not, they will still receive all of the benefits that the study of Irish dance brings. The first-place winners that I spoke to, whom one might expect to have nothing but tunnel vision tunnel vision
Vision in which the visual field is severely constricted.

tunnel vision,
n a defect in sight in which a great reduction occurs in the peripheral field of vision, as if one is looking through
 for trophies, were actually very quick to point out the multiple ways in which Irish dance has greatly enriched their lives: the deep friendships, travel opportunities, personal discipline and connection to their Irish heritage.

Twenty-two-year-old Joseph Seletski of the Golden School in New York, who has won the Oireachtas for the past three years in a row, believes "Irish dancing has made me much more professional and responsible at work. Plus, I've done so much traveling with it. If it weren't for Irish dancing, I probably never would have left my own backyard."

Many of the champions I spoke with shared Seletski's healthy perspective on competition and gave similar advice. Twelve-year-old Kaitlin West from the McLoughlin school said, "I'm just glad I got the chance to experience winning. If it happens again, great. If not, it gives me something to look forward to the following year." Siobhan Mackin, a 19-year-old dancer from the New Jersey-based De Nogla School and another three-time Oireachtas winner, counsels, "When you walk onstage, put your heart into it. Then, when you walk off, you can say, `OK, that is how I danced. I can't change it, because I can't change time, but at least I know I gave it my best because my heart was in it.' Also, set goals for yourself that are not too high. As you work up to it and reach your goal, set your next one. It is like a flight of stairs Noun 1. flight of stairs - a stairway (set of steps) between one floor or landing and the next
flight of steps, flight

staircase, stairway - a way of access (upward and downward) consisting of a set of steps
; you take one step at time until you finally reach the top."

For many dancers, the goals they set for themselves along the way stem from very personal motivations. When 18-year-old Tim Kochka, of the New Jersey- and Pennsylvania-based Davis Academy, won second place in the Worlds last year, it was especially poignant because the competition was held in Belfast, Northern Ireland Northern Ireland: see Ireland, Northern.
Northern Ireland

Part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland occupying the northeastern portion of the island of Ireland. Area: 5,461 sq mi (14,144 sq km). Population (2001): 1,685,267.
. He danced and won in the city that his grandparents grandparents nplabuelos mpl

grandparents grand nplgrands-parents mpl

grandparents grand npl
 came from and had the added support of many relatives who still live in Belfast. Or take the case of 12-year-old Sean Tierney from the Inishfree School in New York, who has won the Oireachtas three times, as well as the All Irelands on the flute. Sean's late grandfather, John Dillon

For other people named John Dillon, see John Dillon (disambiguation).
John Dillon (September 4, 1851 - August 4, 1927) was an nationalist politician in Ireland.
, was an excellent step dancer from County Clare County Clare (Contae an Chláir in Irish) is in the Irish province of Munster. It is located on the west coast of Ireland, northwest of the River Shannon and bordering Lough Derg. Area: 3,147 km² (1,215 square miles). Its capital is the town of Ennis. . Not only does Sean bear the Gaelic version of his grandfather's name, but his family claims that he was "given granddad's feet." His mother explains, "Now Sean wants to win the Worlds in memory of my father. So there is a bit of determination there."

This sense of legacy pervades the Irish dance world. Christina Ryan, one of the chairs of this year's Oireachtas, describes the moment when her own daughter, Maura, won second in the Under-10 category, "I was thinking of the people who taught me, thinking that I was an extension of them. Then, when my own little one got second, not only did I feel proud, but I felt that this win was for my teachers, too." In a sweet coincidence, Kevin Broesler, the other chair of the Oireachtas, experienced a similar joy when his own son, Ryan, won first place in the Under-8 category. For the Broesler family, teacher legacy and family history are even more intertwined. Kevin studied first under Jerry Mulvihill and then under Donny Golden. He met his wife, Catherine Jennings Broesler, through the Irish dancing scene. She was a dancer for the Verlin School and won the Oireachtas herself at the age of 9. Incidentally, Catherine's brother, John Jennings John Jennings can be:
  • John Jennings, a US congressman
  • John Jennings (UK politician) (1903-1990), a British politician
  • John Jennings (businessman), a UK businessman and Chancellor of Loughborough University
, is a World Champion dancer who currently teaches as well.

There are numerous examples of families in the Eastern Region with multiple

siblings who are currently teaching or competing. Patsy McLoughlin has been teaching in New Jersey and New York for thirty-two years. Her brother James Early, sister Karen Conway and daughter Deirdre all teach as well. In addition, her son Chris plays music for com petitions. Mary Lou Schade has also been teaching in New York for thirty-two years. Her daughter Mary Ann now teaches for the school at a New Jersey location. Both the Petri School of New York and the De Nogla School of New Jersey are run by sister teams, Lisa and Karen and Alison and Jennifer, respectively. Donald and Sheila Hunt, on the other hand, run their Long Island-based school as a brother-sister team.

The family dimension softens the edges of and strengthens the loyalties within a competitive world that could otherwise feel very intense. Even dancers without immediate family involved in Irish dancing discover that the feeling of family becomes projected onto their dancing school. Amy Siegel describes the Peter Smith School as "one big family, my surrogate family," while Joe Seletski says, "Going to the Oireachtas is like going to a mini-family reunion. I've been involved with this organization from the ages of 4 to 22 and have made so many close friends through it."

Darrah Carr is a New York City-based writer and choreographer cho·re·o·graph  
v. cho·re·o·graphed, cho·re·o·graph·ing, cho·re·o·graphs
1. To create the choreography of: choreograph a ballet.

 who recently completed her MFA See multifactor authentication.  at New York University New York University, mainly in New York City; coeducational; chartered 1831, opened 1832 as the Univ. of the City of New York, renamed 1896. It comprises 13 schools and colleges, maintaining 4 main centers (including the Medical Center) in the city, as well as the .
COPYRIGHT 2001 Dance Magazine, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:2000 Eastern Regional Oireachtas in Philadelphia
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1U2PA
Date:Apr 1, 2001

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