March 14, 2013

Giving reels, jigs and hornpipe the old soft and hard shoe

St. Patrick's Day Hoolie features traditional Irish music, dancing and food


---- — PLATTSBURGH — It’s high-stepping March madness for the Champlain Valley Irish Dance group instructed by Marie Short.

Catch the Irish-dance troupe at the St. Patrick’s Day Hoolie at the Elks Club in Plattsburgh on Friday. After a traditional meal of corn beef and cabbage, watch the young dancers reel, jig and hornpipe.

“They will be wearing traditional Irish-dance costumes,” Short said. “They are unique to each Irish-dance school, and they usually have knot work, some Celtic design.”

Her students will also perform solo dances and ceili, or group, dancing.

“In soft shoe, (which is) like a black version of a ballet shoe, and hard shoe, which is a slightly modified tap shoe that is specific to Irish dancing. Hard-shoe dancing is quite rhythmic and has intricate footwork, where the soft-shoe dancing is more about movement and extension,” Short said.

The dancing tradition began in Ireland in the 1700s.

“Where there will be dance masters traveling from village to village in Ireland, and (then they) stay for a few weeks at the time and teach the traditional Irish dancing. These were extremely respected individuals. They not only taught dance, but discipline and composure. They were under English control, but Irish culture was part of life. It was later that the English put a ban on all Irish culture — on music, song and dance,” Short said.

The Irish had to keep the top portion of the door open so patrolling Englishmen could look inside to make sure no Irish cultural activities were going on.

“Traditionally, they usually take place in a church hall or someplace like that. Irish dancing spread to North America very gradually in the last 30 years. There has been a huge increase in the number of Irish-dance schools in North America, where you can find Irish-dance classes pretty much in every city,” she said.

There is a competitive circuit for Irish dance at every championship level — local, regional, national and world.

Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne translates from the Gaelic to “gathering of the best dancers in the world.” Champlain Valley Irish Dance’s Claire Benoit and Sarah McNally will compete in this year’s world championship held from Sunday, March 24, through Sunday, March 31, in Boston.

Benoit qualified for the under 13 age group.

“She will be required to do a reel and a hornpipe,” Short said. “If she’s recalled into the third round (the top 50 dancers), she gets to do a set dance, a dance-choreography set to a specific piece of music. Hers is ‘The Black Thorn Stick.’”

McNally, who also competed in the 2011 championships in Dublin, qualified for the under 18 category.

“She will be dancing the flip jig and treble jig,” Short said.

The difference between dances is the time signature of the music. Reels are 2/4, flip jig is 9/8, treble jig is 6/8 and hornpipe is 4/4.

“If Sarah gets a recall, she will do a set dance ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat,’” Short said. “In each age group, there’s roughly between 150 and 200 dancers. To make it into the 50 top dancers is quite an accomplishment. Many only get to do the two rounds.”

Champlain Valley Irish Dance meets Thursdays downstairs in the Senior Center in Plattsburgh. Classes are held between 4 and 8 p.m. Students can begin studying at the age of 5 and continue through championship level.

On Friday, Champlain Valley Irish Dance will perform in local schools and at the Rouses Point American Legion. On Saturday, the group will perform at a CVPH Foundation fundraiser at Olive Ridley’s. On Sunday, the troupe will dance at Seton Academy’s St. Patrick’s Day Dinner.

Short teaches all over the Quebec province.

“(A) lot of Irish in Quebec date to 1840s,” she said. “There was famine in Ireland, and there was a huge exodus, and many settled in Quebec as well as Boston and New York.”

Email Robin

IF YOU GO WHAT: St. Patrick's Day Hoolie featuring Champlain Valley Irish Dance. WHEN: Doors open at 4 p.m., dinner seatings are at 5 and 6 p.m., and the performance is at 7:30 p.m. WHERE: Elks Lodge No. 621, 56 Cumberland Ave., Plattsburgh ADMISSION: $25 adults, $14 children, under 5 free. PHONE: 563-2100