Many were introduced to the Philadelphia Ceili Group and its festival through dance.
One of those was Marian McGill McFeeters. Over time, though, she says, the number of dancers drawn to the Ceili Group has dwindled.
After the last festival, Ceili Group board members decided it was time to do something about that. The answer: a Ceili Og, or young ceili, to be held December 8 at the Philadelphia Irish Center. Kids will be under the tutelage of longtime dance instructor Rosemarie Timoney.
“Bringing children to the festival doesn’t seem to be sparking any interest in the Irish culture,” McFeeters explains. “For them, the festival hasn’t been as exciting. It seemed to have been pushed to the wayside. And we asked ourselves … how can we bring it back?”
McFeeters was raised with a good deal of excitement around the festival, both music and dancing. “Everywhere you went at the festival, there was the opportunity to do both or listen,” she says. “ That was just something I was raised in, with my parents both being very involved in the Ceili Group and ceili dance teachers themselves. It was something I found to be a very important part of my childhood, fostering my interest in Irish culture.”
County association balls at the Irish Center also offered opportunities for dancing as well, she says, but they’re held late in the day, too late for many children.
McFeeters believes that her children—and all children—would share the same interest, if only they had the same opportunity.
Kids who come to the Ceili Og will be taught basic ceili dances, including the Sweets of May, the Walls of Limerick and the Haymakers’ Jig, moving on from there to harder dances like the High-Cauled Cap and the Siege of Ennis.
Children make ideal students for learning ceili, says Rosemarie Timoney. They make mistakes, but they’re far less likely to dwell on them than adults are.
The Ceili Og will be open to kids 7 and older. From Timoney’s perspective, all they really need to know to start is their right and left and their one, two, threes. Older children into their teens are also invited … as are parents. The whole exercise is meant to be a family-friendly affair.
Snacks will be available to keep kids’ energy up—not that they seem to need much.
The Ceili Group is busy getting the word out, hoping to bring in a good crowd of kids eager to pick up the dances that McFeeters learned and loved as a child. The program might also serve another purpose—bringing young families into the Irish Center.
“It’s kind of sad to have a place as awesome as the Irish Center, with its great dance floor, without as much ceili dancing, or much dancing beyond the balls,” says McFeeters. But she believes that once children are exposed to ceili dancing, it’ll become contagious.
“If we can spark up interest in the dance within the Ceili Group,” she says, “I think it’ll spin off and spark interest in a bunch of other ways. It’ll be fun for us, and fun for the children.”
The ceili will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. on the 8th. Check here for more information.