Regional Competition Draws Nearly 200 Dancers from Around the Country

Kevin Kennedy and his daughter, Kaelah, of Southampton's Rince Ri school.

Kevin Kennedy and his daughter, Kaelah, of Southampton's Rince Ri school.

Kevin Kennedy is an especially empathetic “Irish dance dad.” His two daughters, Molly, 17, and Kaelah, 11, perform with Rince Ri Dance School in Southampton, where they live. Last weekend, they were at the Irish Center in Mt. Airy, competing for a chance to go to Ireland in May for the world championships of the Cumann Rince Naisiunta (CRN), an Irish dance association founded in 1982 that has only recently made its way across the ocean.

“I have nine brothers and we all danced,” says Kennedy, a biologist and businessman who was taking tickets at the door. “My Dad and his buddies at the Irish Club needed something to entertain them. We would do it after Irish football, or as we called it, ‘kill me with a ball.’ What we did wasn’t nearly as elaborate as what the kids do today. We were taught by someone who had about six Jamesons.”

His studiously deadpan face gave way to a laugh.

Olivia Hilpl, who founded Rince Ri five years ago, is a far more disciplined teacher than Kennedy’s was. The Sligo-born Hilpl began taking step-dancing lessons at 4 ½, before the Riverdance Effect high-kicked in. “We did a lot more steps on the floor than we did any high flying,” she says. That’s what drew her to CRN, which focuses on teaching students basic steps, then moving them up gradually at their own pace until they’re physically ready for more aerial work. The aim is to prevent injuries, so CRN-style dancers don’t do toe stands either.

While the nearly 200 dancers, from as far away as Santa Fe, NM, and Portland, OR, were competing this weekend to go to the championships, they were also, in effect, taking their final exams. Winners in each age group move up one level. “When they achieve that, they know they’re getting better,” explains Hilpl, who organized the competition.

They certainly had a good time, as their smiles will prove.

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