For six students of Irish dance, spring 2015 will live in their minds for many years to come.
“Irish dance is like what you see at Riverdance,” explained Andrea McCarney, co-owner of The Heart of Ireland School of Dance studio in Midlothian. She owns the three-year-old dance studio with partner Aleise Matheson.
The step dance is notable for its fast leg and foot movements, while the body and arms are, for the most part, very still. The world of Irish dance has become much more popular since Riverdance’s inception in 1994 as other shows, such as Lord of the Dance and Celtic Tiger, came onto the scene.
McCarney started dancing herself when she was three years old. She has a B.A. in dance and became enthralled with Irish dance while in college. It quickly became her passion, and she has taught dance since 1998 and is a certified, award-winning choreographer. Her partner Matheson is the financial manager and teaches some classes at their studio.
“In October 2014, the Heart of Ireland School of Dance studio was chosen as the host for the Irish dance competition on the East Coast,” McCarney said. “People came from as far as Michigan and Florida to compete here.” McCarney estimates about 200 participants came to compete.
“We had judges from Ireland, California and Utah,” she said. The competitions consisted of such elements of dance as the jig, fast footwork, jumps, and graceful dances like reels, hornpipes and treble jigs. McCarney explained, “The participants were competing to go to the world competition in Europe.” There were four different events to qualify for the worlds.
Thirty participants from the fall event qualified for the Irish Dance World competition to be held in Germany. Six young students decided to participate in the four-day event held in Düsseldorf. Because of the expense of a trip to Europe, some were not able to go this year. The participants included Laura Brooke McCarney (9), Brennan McCarney (11), Daria Matheson (16), Miranda McCollum (17), Corinne Matheson (10) and Chloe Mapes (17). All placed at the world dance competition.
Laura Brooke was the only American to place first in her age division at the competition, yet the trip was more about the opportunity to learn about Europe and meet other people from different cultures. “For most of them, this was their first trip to Europe,” McCarney stated.
Brennan McCarney was the only boy to make the trip and compete from the area in the young men’s groups. He said the experience was such a great learning experience. “I enjoyed the experience because I had the chance to meet new people, travel and try so much different food,” he said.
The Heart of Ireland School of Dance studio was only one of three USA schools to be able to compete in the Irish Dance Worlds. McCarney said the biggest competition they faced was not Ireland, as one might expect, but Russia and Belarus. “These were very serious, disciplined dancers,” McCarney shared. “If they got something wrong they could be punished.”
The children from all over adapted and her daughter, Laura Brooke, made friends with other girls from Hong Kong and Belarus, playing games and laughing together. “The language barrier was easily overcome,” she said. “It was an amazing trip, quite a learning experience for the group from Chester.”
Brennan said, “I had to learn a lot of new dances and sometimes spend more than three hours a day practicing. It was worth it all to get to compete against other people,” he said. “What I learned is that I have to do better next year, and I’ll be working on everything I saw there and be so much more familiar and prepared.”
For more on Irish dance, visit www heartofirelandschool.com or call 804-464-8190. They are located at Ivymont Square Shopping Center, 14257 Midlothian Turnpike Midlothian, VA 23113.