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Irish Dance

Dance

Downingtown Dancer Catches Celtic Fire

When Michael Londra and the Celtic Fire light up the stage at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia on March 16, the singing sensation will have with him some world-class talent, including Downingtown native, World Champion Irish dancer, and recently crowned 2019 All-Ireland Irish Dancing Champion Owen Luebbers.

“Owen is a brilliant dancer, and he’s absolutely the sweetest kid. I’m thrilled to have him in the show. It’ll be so nice to see him perform for a hometown audience and to show the locals how great he is,” Londra said.

The 20-year-old Luebbers, a third-year Media Studies and Production major at Temple University, is thrilled to be performing at home, too. He expects his family to be in the audience, as well as some of his friends from Temple. “I’m so excited to be performing in Philadelphia because my friends seldom get the opportunity to see me dance on stage,” he said.

He began touring with Londra in 2017. “That wasn’t my first time dancing on stage, but it was the first time it felt real,” he explained. “I knew I wanted to do something with Irish dance for the rest of my life by the time I was 12 or 13. After that tour I remember thinking, ‘Wow! I can do this forever.’ There’s just something so incredibly special about working with Michael and the incredible band and the other amazing dancers,” he added. Continue Reading

Dance

Summer Camp for Irish Dancers

Noreen Donohue McAleer offers a few pointers on toe pointing.

Noreen Donohue McAleer offers a few pointers on toe pointing.

When there were no jigs and reels playing, the Irish Center’s cavernous ballroom echoed with little girl giggles. Last week, the Cummins School dancers were having their summer camp—a lot of dancing, which also served last-minute cramming for the five Cummins dancers heading to the national championships in Montreal next week, and, for the littlest ones, crafts involving glue and glitter and tie-dyed socks. Oh, and ice cream sundaes, the only thing that brought dead silence to the room.

The Cummins School has been teaching kids to step dance in this ballroom for the last 12 years; a second class, mainly for the youngest, is held at the VFW post in Glenside.

“We’ve been so lucky,” says Frances Cummins Donohue, who runs the school with her daughter, Noreen Donohue McAleer. Donohue started dancing herself when she was an 11-year-old in Dublin and scored a second in the All-Irelands. “Dancing was my life and I loved it and when I came over here, I instilled that in my girls, Kerri and Noreen,” she says.

The Cummins students learn more than beats, cuts, lifts and sevens. “Because we’re in the Irish Center, we’re also exposing kids to the Irish culture,” says Donohue. “The bagpipers [The Emerald Society Pipe Band] are here on Wednesdays and they love that. Then John Shields is in here with his ceili dancers and they enjoy that too. This space is amazing. We’d miss it terrible, we really would.”

Donohue is talking about the current financial crisis facing the Irish Center, a combination of an increased tax burden brought on by Philadelphia’s citywide reassessment last year and kitchen upgrades required by the city’s board of health—expenses estimated to total $100,000 or more over the next two years.

Cummins dancers will be participating in a fundraiser on July 19 at Maloney’s Pub of Ardmore in an effort to save their home.

But this week, it was all fun and games—except for the extra dance instruction from Donohue, McAleer, and teachers Brittany Kelly and Theresa McElhill. We stopped by on Thursday and took some photos of the fun.

Dance

Irish Dance Fever at Villanova

Villanova Irish dancer Rory Beglane

Villanova Irish dancer Rory Beglane

They came from all over, 16 college and university Irish dance teams, to compete in the first Intercollegiate Irish Dance Festival last Saturday at Villanova’s Jake Nevin Fieldhouse. It wasn’t exactly a Wildcats basketball game, but if you could have bottled up all the excitement of the dancers, parents and grandparents, university students and just plain Irish dance fans, it would have come pretty close.

Compared to the Mid-Atlantic Region Oireachtas—something like a marathon of Irish dance, drawing hundreds of dancers from throughout the region to Philadelphia over the Thanksgiving holidays—the Villanova event was relatively modest. And while the Oireachtas dancers will wear glitzy and expensive costumes, with flowing curly wigs, the dancers from Catholic University of America, the University of Dayton, Boston College and all the other schools wore outfits that probably didn’t cost their parents a month’s salary. Here and there, yes, dashes of sparkles and glitter, but otherwise subdued by comparison. No tiaras. No wigs.

The Villanova dance team was perhaps the best example of the lean and clean approach. They wore plain black slacks with black T-shirts, the team’s logo splashed across the front.

Like other Irish dance competitions, this one featured many of the traditional categories, such as four-hand dance, eight-hand dance and treble reel. But the highlight was the exhibition piece competition, in which each team showed off its unique routine, the innovative dance sets they’d typically perform during university athletic events. Some teams stuck to tried-and-true traditional. One team drew whoops and cheers when they combined Irish dance steps with C&C Music Factory’s “Everybody Dance Now.”

The team from the University of Dayton won that event, with Villanova coming in second, trailed by Boston College at number 3.

We have dozens and dozens of photos from the day. With luck, there will be another distinctly ‘Nova Irish dance competition next year. And every year thereafter.

Dance

In Step With the Villanova Irish Dance Team

Co-captain Rory Beglane leads dancers through their steps.

Co-captain Rory Beglane leads dancers through their steps.

The tile walls of the gym reverberate to a pounding techno rhythm, filling the warm, brightly lit room with sound.

Also bouncing, but also in a rhythmic way, are about a dozen young women—and one young man. All wear the black T-shirts of the university’s Irish Dance Team, an entirely student-run troupe founded in 2006.  The team develops all of its own music and choreography.

Yes, at a university steeped in the proud tradition of sports teams, this is a very different kind of team, but perhaps not so surprising for an institution also well known for its highly regarded Irish studies. And for a student of a particular background, the Irish Dance Team is a definite draw.

Senior Mattie Rowan is the co-captain of the team. She’s from Albany, N.Y., majoring in political science and Arab & Islamic Studies. LIke many out on the gym floor, she had a background in Irish dance before coming to Villanova, though she didn’t attend a traditional Irish dance school, as others did. “I’m from a small town,” she says. “We just had a dancer doing Irish dance in a studio in the town. I think that just shows the range of dancers we have. The primary aspect I was looking for when I was looking at colleges was religion, but also if there was a dance club. That was a definite plus for me.”

Other dancers, she says, decided on ‘Nova for the same reason. “A lot of people want to keep dancing, so they seek out dance groups. There are other schools that do offer it, but I think we’re very reachable. We have a Facebook page, a Twitter page, and we have our own Villanova page. We are known to people who are looking to keep dancing.”

One of those who considered the presence of an Irish dance team a plus was sophomore civil engineering major Rory Beglane, a lean, long-time dancer, a competitor at the world level, and the sole male. He became co-captain this year, an unexpected honor.

“I’ve been dancing for 14 years,” Rory explains. “For me, it was a deciding factor. I wasn’t willing to give up Irish dancing after years of practice.”

Members of the team have plenty of opportunities to put their practice to good use. There’s plenty of the traditional stuff, with ghillies and hard shoes—a gray plastic tarp is there primarily to shield the gym floor from the latter. But the tecktonik dance the team is practicing—with decidedly non-traditional moves—provides an accessible entree to Irish dance for students who aren’t familiar with it.

“We dance to it for basketball games, typically,” says Mattie. “We do it at halftime, and students are more likely to take an interest in it with the type of music we use. We still dance to traditional music in the beginning, but then we go into the contemporary.” Additionally, the team has performed for many other events, including the university’s day of service, the Special Olympics, and, two years ago, the Celtic Festival in Disneyland Paris.

This year, says Mattie, the team is going to add a challenging new twist. “We’re trying to do an intercollegiate competition. There isn’t one in North America that’s ever been done, so Villanova is starting it. It will be in late November. It’s just a way for people who have never competed to compete, and for those who are still competing, it’s good practice.”

The Villanova group tends to draw members from throughout the country—most with experience, but some without. Freshman Gabriella Berman is a good example. A dancer for 12 years, she’s from Joliet, Illinois. When it came to Irish dance, she says, “I was looking for it. I wouldn’t have made my choice on that completely, but I was really happy they had it.”

One dancer, freshman Brenna Fallows, is local. She’s from Moorestown, N.J., and she danced, off and on, with the Gibson School for nine years. Like many local dancers, she has performed in area competitions, and she was all too familiar with the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade. She, too, chose Villanova for its Irish dance team. “I knew about it when I was deciding between schools. For me it was a really nice bonus. It was the icing on the cake.”

Dance, News, People

Cummins Dancers Bring Home the Medals

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Some of the Cummins' School medalists.

Maggie Priole, 10, from Glenside, was ranked first in north America for her age in the treble jig round, earning two perfect 100’s from 2 of the three judges at the North American Irish Dance Championship, held July 3-7, in Chicago. Maggie, who is a student at the Cummins School in Philadelphia, placed fourth overall in North America . She attends 3 three-hour classes a week, plus 2-3 private lessons a week, and has a private strength-training session geared towards Irish dancers each week, proving that winning takes work. Congrats, Maggie!

Maggie Priole of Glenside who ranked first in North America in the treble jig.

Other Cummins School dancers also came back with medals. Mairin McDonnell age 10 from Jenkintown came in 25th. Mairin also competed in February at the all Ireland champs in Dublin. Ellie Lynch, 9, from Oreland was franked in 35th place. Katie Donnelly, 16 from, Manayunk came in 56th place. This is the first year Katie qualified for North American competition. She also received a medal at the All Ireland’s in February.

The Cummins School is located at the Irish Center in Mt. Airy.

Editors’ note: How did your dancers do? Email us with the information at denise.foley@comcast.net and we’ll let everyone know. Pictures welcome!

Dance

Day of the Dancers

Coyle dancers

Little Coyle dancers get a bit of coaching.

If you love Irish dance, most of the major Delaware Valley-area dance schools take to their tappy little toes at the annual Penn’s Landing Irish Festival. The 2010 festival was no exception.

Irish dance schools such as McDade, Timoney, Rince Ri, Cara, Coyle,
McHugh, Cummins, Celtic Flame, Gibson, Campbell, 2nd Street, Emerald
Isle, and Christina Ryan-Kilcoyne performed in the music tent and at the
main stage.

Some of the schools chose to wear the full regalia, flouncy wigs and all; others chose to dress for the weather … which was, of course, really hot.

Festival-goers just plain loved it all, either way.

Here are a few quick peeks at their performances.

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