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Irish shoes are dancing in Ladner

Mackenzie, 11, of the O'Connor O'Brien School of Irish Dance in Ladner.

Mackenzie, 11, of the O’Connor O’Brien School of Irish Dance in Ladner.

If you’ve seen one Irish Dance dress in a competition then… you’ve seen only one Irish Dance dress. In fact, much like the proverbial snowflake, no two are alike.

That’s according to retired professional dancer Carolyn Robinson of North Delta, now the lead director at the O’Connor O’Brien School of Irish Dance, run from the Odd Fellows Hall in Ladner.

The 28-year-old has been practicing Irish dancing for 20 years now, many of those years competing professionally. Now she teaches a dozen children and seven adults ranging in age from four to sixty.

“Everyone’s in it for different reasons,” says Carolyn. “When you’re young you get into it for exercise and socializing. A lot of people are drawn to it by the fact it is a cultural dance. Usually as people start progressing through the levels and getting better they become attracted to the competition aspect of it.”

She was just a second grader in elementary school on St. Patrick’s Day when a group of Irish Dancers came to demonstrate the style. As her father’s family is from Ireland, Carolyn took notice right away.

Like Scottish Highland dancing, Irish dancing comes from Celtic roots, but that’s where the similarities end. Irish dancing uses soft shoes and hard shoes, emphasizing the “steps” in dance.

As well, hands are often on the hips or in the air in Scottish Highlands, whereas Irish dancers almost always have their arms straight at their sides whilst furiously crossing their legs and moving their feet.

“The big draw to Irish dancing is the solo performances,” says Carolyn. “It’s individual, it’s how hard you’re willing to work, and the big draw to those majors is usually the individual solo dancing.”

Competitions are held regionally, nationally, and even on the international stage for the ambitious dancers. Carolyn retired last July due to injuries but has competed in the World Championships.

Perhaps their top student right now is 11-year-old Mackenzie, who has begun competing in regional championships and has the opportunity to travel to the North American Championships in Orlando, Florida this year.

Starting out, class fees range from $60-80 per month for one class a week. Soft shoes cost in a range of $75 while hard shoes cost a few hundred dollars. When you first start competing you can wear a more plain dress but it can get quite expensive.

“I know at the top levels they usually range from $2,000 to $3,000 each. So there’s the solo dresses for the top competitors but when they’re younger or when they’re doing teams they all have cheaper school costumes.”

All the music is traditional Irish dance, although some songs are for the soft shoe and some for the hard shoe. When dancers compete they will usually do one dance of each. There’s also group dancing, called céilís, where teams will vie for the judge’s favour in national competitions.

Irish Dance isn’t just for women, adds Carolyn. Although the dance styles are similar for children, there are many world famous male Irish dancers who make the style distinct for the gender.

“Once they start getting a bit older the styles differ for men and women to suit them but the men are phenomenal to watch,” says Carolyn.

If you’d like to know more about Irish Dancing visit ocobirishdance.com.

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