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Dance, News, People

They Danced Till They Dropped

Louie Bradley feels the love after he and partner Michele Quinn win the contest.

Louie Bradley feels the love after he and partner Michele Quinn win the contest.

It was the fourth year for the Delaware County Gaels terpsichorean fundraiser, Dancing Like a Star, and it just keeps getting better and better.

Eight couples competed in foxtrot, swing, and dances of various eras at the event, which drew 700 people to the Springfield Country Club on February 20. Jennaphr Frederick of Fox 29 put in her third year as event emcee, though Bob Kelly, who recently joined the Fox affiliate after years with CBS3, blew in for a brief appearance. Judges included dancers and dance instructors Carole Orlandi Barr, Wayne St. David, and Jenna Rose Pepe, with guest judge Peter Papas, of the Philadelphia Union broadcast team and veteran goalie with the Philadelphia Kixx.

The winners, who were selected not only on their abilities to dance but to also raise money, were Louie Bradley, chairman of the youth Gaelic sports league, and Michele Quinn owner of Blush Salon who has been part of the styling team getting the couples ready for their stage debuts.

We were there from start to finish and got before, after, and a few in-between candids of the couples who were:

Irish-born Paul Hurley, who played Gaelic football himself, and Siobhan McGrory, originally from Tyrone, who has been involved in Irish dancing.

Donegal’s own Dermot “Gogie” O’Donnell, who played football and danced, and is now coach of the Gael’s U14s, and Colette Morgan, a nurse whose two sons play for the Gaels.

Jason Fialkovich, known as Mr. Jason, the children’s librarian at the Middletown Free Library, and Beth Hamilton, a mother of two who works in marketing for a pharmaceutical company and is an accomplished dancer.

Mark Procknow, a Kensington native and student athlete, who now lives in Havertown, and Eileen Corr, the daughter of Irish immigrants who is married to a man from Tyrone.

Tom Kane, who is the owner of the Brick and Brew in Havertown, and Chrissy Penezic, a South Philly native now living in Havertown, who is a media strategy director (and won a “Hustle” contest as a teenager).

Dance, Music

A Look Back at the 2015 Midwinter Fest in Video

John Byrne


Take a look at our wee video sampler, and you’ll see and hear proof that the 2015 Mid-Winter Scottish & Irish Festival truly was Scottish and Irish.

Scottish dancers, Irish dancers. Scottish pipers, Irish rockers. That’s not even scratching the surface.

Really, when you consider how big the festival is, how many days it goes on, and how many music and dance groups there, are it would take a much longer video to fit them all in.

We took a cruise around the festival, checked out a couple of acts on stage, and two more upstairs in the ballroom.

So here is a quick look at scenes from our Saturday at the festival.


Dance, News, People, Sports

They’re Dancing Like Stars Again

Gogi O'Donnell practices a dip with instructor Lisa Oster.

Gogi O’Donnell practices a dip with instructor Lisa Oster.

For the past three years, Louie Bradley has suited up for the Delaware County Gael’s popular fundraiser, Dance Like a Star, in which eight couples vie for a trophy while raising money for the youth Gaelic sports club. He didn’t dance. He just made a little speech. He’s president of the organization.

But this year, he’ll be suited up and wearing his dancing shoes. His partner is Michelle Quinn, owner of Blush Salon in Newtown Square, who until this year was just contributing her styling skills to the event. “She’s way out of her element,” said Bradley, with a mischievous grin, when I talked to him after Sunday dance practice at Cara School of Irish Dance in Drexel Hill. “I’m out of mine too. I don’t have feet, I’ve got hooves!”

A couple of years ago, Paul McDaid was helping his DJ brother John with the music for DLAS. This year, he’s wearing a tutu, dancing with Heather Crossan. “I said I would do this on one condition,” says the 29-year-old, a recent immigrant from Letterkenny, County Donegal. “I’d do it if Louie Bradley would do it.”

(There’s a family connection here: Louie Bradley and John McDaid are married to sisters; their wives Carmel Bradley and Una McDaid are part of the committee that pulls off this extravaganza at Springfield Country Club every year.)

Some of the contestants, like Colette Morgan of Media, are Delco Gaels parents. “I got asked to be a stand-in at the last minute, and the club has been so good to me and my family, helping us with our travel expenses when the teams travel, that I couldn’t say no—it was a no-brainer,” says the mother of two teens.

One, Dermott “Gogi” O’Donnell, is a coach of the under 12 team. A couple of years ago, he has a small part—as a garda—in one of the dance sketches, but signed up as a contestant this year “because the kids asked me to.”

But you don’t have to be related or a parent to be part of the fun. Beth Hamilton volunteered because a friend who attended last year “told me it had my name written all over it. I love to dance,” says Hamilton, who does tap and jazz at the McHenry Dance Centre in Havertown.

The dancers practice every Sunday with two choreographers, Jennifer Cleary and Lisa Oster. In previous years, the dancers started the event with a waltz, did a group dance, and then each couple stole the spotlight with a special freestyle dance that involves costumes, fancy steps, and sometimes a little acrobatics.

“We decided to change it up this year,” said Cleary. “We’re opening with a foxtrot, then a swing dance, and then each of the couples pulled a decade out of a hat and they’ll be doing dances from that decade.”

The practice schedule can be grueling. In addition to the three-and-a-half hour Sunday rehearsals they’ve had every week since the beginning of January, the contestants meet with Jennifer or Lisa during the week to go over their steps and sometimes the couples get together for extra practice. “I dance in my basement,” says Bradley, laughing.

“We’ve all pretty much been eating, sleeping, working and dancing for the last five weeks,” says Morgan, who is also a fulltime nurse. “It’s been a lot of fun though. It’s stressful learning all these new moves, but hopefully it will all come together.”

It needs to come together by Friday, February 20. Tickets are $45 and aren’t available at the door. You have to order online, or contact Carmel Bradley at (610-789-9697) or Lorna Corr at (610-353-5556). You can also buy votes for your favorite couple online. 

Dance, Music

Kiss Me, I’m Sober

sstpdaySt. Patrick’s Day arrives, and it’s as if someone has uncorked a magic bottle, and the genie of booze appears in our midst, granting but one wish: the wish to become really, most sincerely drunk. Because that’s what the Irish do on St. Patrick’s Day do, right?

Well, there’s no escaping it—some do. But it’s pretty clear that you don’t need to be Irish to wander from bar to bar, wearing silly hats and draped with green beads. Many aren’t.

And it’s a big night for booze, as boozy nights go. According to the financial website The Motley Fool, St. Patrick’s Day accounts for up to 1 percent of annual beer sales in the United States.

The potential consequences of all that binge drinking are pretty serious. More than a third of all traffic fatalities on the saint’s day, especially into the evening and into the next morning—are associated with drunk driving.

Then, of course, there’s a problem near and dear to many Irish hearts—the perpetuation of a cultural stereotype that many find distasteful.

Well, Katherine Ball-Weir wants to shove that cork back into the bottle. So if you’re up for a party, and the thought of waking up the next morning with bed spins doesn’t appeal to you, she’d like to welcome you to Sober St. Patrick’s Day—an epic bash in the Hamilton Media Commons at WHYY studios on Independence Mall on Sunday, March 15. That’s the day of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade and the focal point of the city’s celebration.

“We’re bringing in incredible entertainment,” says Ball-Weir, chairperson of the Delaware Valley Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, a worldwide Irish music, dance, language and cultural organization. “It’ll be a wonderful Irish party without any alcohol. There will be children’s activities. They can learn an Irish dance step or how to beat a bodhran (a traditional Irish frame drum) or how to say ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ in Irish Gaelic. There will be activities for adults, too.”

A lot of those activities revolve around music and dance, with some truly world-class entertainment—including seven-time All-Ireland button accordion champ John Whelan, four-time fiddle champion Dylan Foley, Patrick Hutchinson, an All-Ireland uilleann pipe champ.

Some young local All-Ireland champs will be on hand as well: The Converse Crew, fiddlers Alex Weir (Ball-Weir’s son) and Haley Richardson, Keegan Loesel on pipes and whistle, and Dylan Richardson on guitar.

If you want a workout, there will be ceili dancing. If you want to replenish all the calories you’ve lost pounding the boards, there will be plenty of baked goods, snacks and drinks—non-alcoholic, of course. Look for special guest Maria Walsh, the International Rose of Tralee and Philly’s Rose, and performances by the Emerald Isle Academy Dancers.

All of this alcohol-free merry-making is not a new idea, says Ball-Weir.

“It’s been a sold-put event in New York City for three years, and it’s in other cities, too. There’s one in Richmond, Va., Casper, Wyoming, Northern Ohio, and Belfast (Northern Ireland) had a huge one. I knew about the event in New York because I also knew some of the musicians who performed in it, and as I learned more about it, I thought: This is a great idea! So I went to Maureen Donachie, who is the number 2 person with the New York Sober St. Patrick’s Day group, and I said, I really like this idea. How can we do this in Philadelphia?”

With some thoughts and encouragement from Donachie, Ball-Weir presented the idea to the Philadelphia Comhaltas (COAL-tuss) board, and they loved it, too.

Presenting a big event like this is exactly up the organization’s alley.

“Although we are a small group, in the last couple of years our branch has been hosting and co-hosting more and more music events,” says Ball-Weir. “We have co-sponsored or helped to support events of the Philadelphia Ceili (KAY-lee) Group or the Coatesville Traditional Irish Music Series with Frank Dalton, and some events at West Chester University. It’s exciting for me to think about doing things with other groups. The best way for us all to succeed is for us to work together.”

In this case, the partnership is with Frank Daly of American Paddy’s Productions. “They produce the Philadelphia Fleadh and an American Celtic Christmas, among other things. I asked him to partner with us—Frank, specifically, because he and I had teamed up previously to present some Irish concerts and workshops—and he agreed. I couldn’t do it without him.”

Philly’s Comhaltas branch hopes the event will attract families with children, says, Ball-Weir, along with “adults who want to celebrate but not in an overindulgent way, and the third is the recovery community.”

Just because you won’t find Guinness or Jameson at this particular party, Ball-Weir says, doesn’t mean Comhaltas is against drinking, but they are against the binge drinking rampant on St. Patrick’s Day.

As the mother of a one-time Irish dancer, she knows what she’s talking about.

“Alexander was an Irish dancer before he was an Irish fiddler. We went to a lot of pubs on St. Patrick’s Day, where the dance schools would dance, and it was just awful. The bars start serving drinks at the same time they put out breakfast, so a lot of people are totally out of it by the end of the day. These are stupid Americans who are looking for an excuse to get drunk. They hang their hat on St. Patrick’s Day.”

Ball-Weir and her organization want to open Irish eyes to a more authentic celebration, one that hangs its hat on only two things: Ireland and Irish culture.

“This event is basically for anyone who wants to celebrate Irish culture in an environment that will be respectful of Ireland and its culture. It’s a new way to reclaim the day.”

For details and tickets to the event, hosted by WHYY’s Ed Cunningham:

The event starts at 4 p.m., and ends at 7.


Dance, Food & Drink, People

A Holly, Jolly Christmas with The Rose of Tralee

Maria Walsh and Santa crack each other up.

Maria Walsh and Santa crack each other up.

When the Philadelphia Rose Centre was established in 2002, in order to give “young Irish American women from the Philadelphia region the chance to participate in one of Ireland’s most beloved traditions,” little did they know that in 2014 they would see one of their own become the International Rose. 

So this year’s Christmas party was an extra special holiday celebration. With Maria Walsh and Santa (who sometimes goes by the name Seamus Bonner) in attendance, the Saturday Club in Wayne was rocking the season’s spirit last Sunday. There was food, music provided by Karen Boyce McCollum and the Lads (Pat Close and Pat Kildea), dancing, face painting, crafts, raffles, Newbridge jewelry for sale by Kathleen Regan and just a whole lot of fun.

The Conaghan family—Tom, Mary and daughters Sarah, Mary and Karen Conaghan Race—are the driving force behind the phenomenal success of the Philadelphia Rose program, and are supported by a devoted committee (Margaret King, Beth Keeley and Elizabeth Spellman) and volunteers who work throughout the year to bring events and activities to the Rose community.

She’s already traveled all over the world as the 2014 Rose, but on Sunday, Maria belonged to Philadelphia. She posed for pictures, danced and made the room come alive. And as she thanked everyone for attending the party, especially those with young kids, she noted “If we didn’t have young rosebuds, petals, future escorts, we wouldn’t have a future. And it’s so important that parents and teachers and aunts and uncles and grandparents bring kids here. This is how the Irish have survived for so long—we always re-invest and keep the cycle sustainable and going.”

Go ahead and enjoy the photos from the day:


Watch the video created by Mary Conaghan:

To follow Maria’s journey as International Rose, follow her on the Maria Walsh 2014 International Rose of Tralee Facebook page

And for more information on the Philly Rose Centre, check out their website: Philadelphia Rose of Tralee


A Bit of Extracurricular Irish Dancing


Irish dancers from colleges and universities from several states got a chance to strut their stuff Saturday at Villanova University as Nova’s Irish dance team hosted its annual intercollegiate festival. The field house, more often host to basketball games and other athletic events—and, yes, I’ll admit, I saw Cozy Morley there once—instead echoed to the sound of clattering hard shoes as all the teams staked out a patch of gym floor to practice.

A competition it was, yes, but for these dancers it was really more of a chance to get together and have a good time with each other. That they all just happened to share an interest in Irish dance was icing on the cake. Each team that competed was treated to uproarious applause from dancers from all the other teams.

One particular hit was the Villanova dancers’ clever take on music from The Lion King, complete with animal masks. Some dance teams went more traditional, but one of the most interesting things about the intercollegiate competition is that anyone could dance to anything. I’m not sure klezmer has made an appearance yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did someday.

If you couldn’t be there, well, sorry we missed you, but here are some photos to tide you over ’til next year.

Dance, Music, People

Rambling House Night at the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival


Sean Og Graham, Mickey and Niamh Dunne

Sean Og Graham, Mickey and Niamh Dunne


The Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival may have ended last week, but there are still musical riches from the event that need to be shared.

In Ireland, a Rambling House is a long-held tradition, an evening where people gather to share music, songs and stories in an atmosphere based on community and good cheer. The Irish Center here in Philly was the setting for just such an event on the second night of the Festival.

Hosted by Galway native Gabriel Donohue, whom we now claim as one of Philadelphia’s finest musicians, he brought his music and stories to the evening as well as introducing and joining in on the fun. The special guests of the evening were Niamh Dunne and Sean Og Graham, who are part of the super group Beoga, but have been touring recently as a duo, performing songs from Niamh’s solo album “Portraits.” And as an added bonus, Niamh’s father, Mickey Dunne, a talented Uillean pipe and whistle player, was along for the craic. The musical legacy of the Dunne Family is well-known in Ireland and includes the late Pecker Dunne.

Among the wealth of talent present for the evening were singer Briege Murphy who hails from County Armagh, Philadelphia’s Rosaleen McGill, Terry Kane and Ellen Tepper (who play together as the Jameson Sisters) and some outstanding younger musicians from Philadelphia: Uillean piper Keegan Loesel and fiddlers Alex Weir and Haley Richardson. Keegan, Alex and Haley recently returned from Sligo where they competed in the Fleadh Cheoil.  

So, if you were unlucky enough to have missed it, or if you were wise enough to have been present for the unforgettable evening and want to relive the experience, sit back and enjoy some of the videos from the Rambling House.

Dance, Music

Saturday Afternoon Fever



If you wanted to be Irish in Philadelphia, Saturday at the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival was a total immersion experience.

If you are a musician or just plain love Irish music, you could tune up your fiddle and sit in, or take workshops in Irish singing or bodhran playing. You could listen to the young musicians of the Converse Trio Plus One (named after the famous sneakers), the Jameson Sisters, the great Philadelphia Ceili Band, and more.

If you love Irish dance, you could dance until the soles of your shoes wore off at the enthusiastic prompting of John Shields. The Cummins School dancers were on their feet off and on throughout the day.

For the kids there was plenty to do. You could get your face painted—tiger faces were big—or lay your little mitts on a stretchy balloon sword, make St. Brigid’s cross (the adults were in on that, too), or just use the entire wide-open Irish Center as your personal running track.

We’re running out of energy just talking about it. Better to just show you. Here are the pictures.