Irish Dancing: After an unexpected three-year gap, some of Ireland’s most talented dancers finally had the opportunity to compete for the world title.
Belfast hosted Ireland’s 50th World Dance Festival on Sunday, with more than 3,500 competitors taking part in the weekly competition.
The tournament was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 epidemic.
It has deprived many dancers of the opportunity to sing on the big stage. At the height of their competitive careers.
But this year, the competition is back in full swing as. The organizers of this prestigious event host the 50th anniversary.
The colorful competition is hosted by An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (Irish Dance Commission). Which is the largest and oldest governing Irish dance organization in the world.
“It’s great that the kids got the chance to be on the big stage again,” said Orfhlaith Ni Bhriain, CLRG vice chairman.
The epidemic has severely disrupted all aspects of Irish dance – for both young competitors and their teachers, he adds.
“It has greatly affected the Irish Dancing community. Because many people have been banned from online classes. On Whatsapp or Zoom or social media for a long time,” explains Ms Ní Bhriain.
“The difficulty with that is, you try to get the kids to adapt to different situations that you would not be familiar with. Without proper flooring or perhaps without the right shoes.
“So there were a lot of problems we had to deal with but the people were really good, they stuck to it and moved on.”
‘Irish Dancing Olympics’
At your highest levels, Irish dance is a highly competitive. And physically demanding activity that requires athletics, dedication and many years of exercise.
Ms Ní Bhriain says that in order to dance at the World Championships. Competitors must first win in the heat of the world, so “reaching this level is a success in itself”.
For some small teams that have won back by 2020, this will be their first competitive opportunity.
Dancing during the decades
To celebrate their 50th anniversary, the commission is reviewing its archives to produce. An exhibition of photographic history and monuments narrating the 50-year competition.
CLRG says the event has grown from a “humble beginning” to a real international competition that describes it as “very important for the Irish Dance Olympics”.
The first World Irish Dancing Championships were held at the Mansion House in Dublin in 1970.
Since the show has grown, it has traveled to various cities in Ireland, the USA, Canada and Great Britain.
Competitors from more than 20 countries have registered to attend the 2022 tournament.
The event could raise millions of tourists’ money in the major cities. Where dancers and their families spend a fortune on accommodation and hotels.
“The last time you were in Dublin in 2017, you were looking at about 14 million euros in the host city,” said Ms Ní Bhriain.
“It takes a village to grow an Irish dancer, between clothes and coaches and solidity and nutrition.”
He says there is now a “whole industry” built for Irish dance. In which the Northern Ireland economy will benefit from it.
“Crowds of people are gathering in Belfast and will be spending time and money in the countryside and that’s really good for tourism.”
‘I thought,’ Will I ever get back on stage? ‘
Among the thousands of young people who took part in this year’s competition is 20-year-old Gareth O’Connor. A former world champion who hopes to add to his trophy collection.
She started studying in her hometown of Dromintee, County Armagh. When she was seven years old, which she said made her a “dead start” in the Irish dance community.
Since then, his impressive dance skills have allowed him to travel the world. Both as a competitor and as a professional performer.
His tour so far has included Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance in Taiwan. And competitions in Florida, Boston, North Carolina and Montreal.
However, closing the door was a “stressful” moment and she even considered giving up her dream of a dance career.
Zoom was really hard
“It was hard to stay motivated … to be at Zoom was really hard,” he said.
“Most dancers do not have a lot of things to do at home in the studio.
“Doing that with your coaches is a lot different than when you’re at home training on your own.”
Gareth regularly exercises up to 15 hours a week to maintain his skills. And exercises in the gym to improve his stamina and strength.
But maintaining a solid training schedule in the absence of a clear timetable for rescheduled competitions was a challenge for a Queen University business student.
“At one point I almost thought: ‘Is it going to happen and will I ever be back on stage?’”
He realized that “time is running out” and was missing opportunities towards the end of his competitive career.
“I feel like I missed that few years,” he admits.
“I’d say you’ll find a lot of dancers my age who were probably thinking about hanging shoes, but I had a lot of support to keep me motivated.”
Gareth has slammed his coaches for keeping him on the move, but says all Irish dancers deserve credit for “fighting the epidemic,” refusing to allow Covid to finish their work prematurely.
“Now we are ready to enter the world stage to show what we have,” he said.
Gareth will be competing on the final day of the tournament, which is also his 21st birthday.