Kathleen and Paul Chaney came to the Big Apple Feis from Newburyport, MA, with their three daughters
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For every great Irish dancer, there is a usually a great set of "feis parents." These are the people who fork out the cash for the wigs, costumes and flights, who get up at 5.30 am to drive a couple of hours to the competition. They are there to congratulate - and to console.
And at the Big Apple Feis in New York on Saturday, a whole community of these parents descended on New York's Grand Hyatt Hotel.
Gavin Monaghan, a painter and decorator from Long Island, is a seasoned feis dad. He has picked up plenty of experience over the last nine years, with his daughters, Heather, 13 and Grace, 10.
"It's mainly because of my Irish heritage that I encouraged them, and I feel it's in their blood," he said. "Irish dancing is great for the girls overall. The discipline is good for them, it sets them on the right path.”
Although the competitions are time-consuming, Monaghan didn't complain. "Sure, I don't meet as many dads as I would at, say, baseball,” he said. “But as long as I get to see the Celtic soccer game later, that's okay.”
While a lot of the parents at the Big Apple Feis had some Irish heritage, not all did. Sisters Evelyn Chilelli and Valerie Thornton, whose daughters Emma, 10, and Delia, 11, were competing, are Italian-Hungarian.
Their girls got involved in Irish dancing when a dance instructor needed volunteers for a show in Lond Island, and saw Emma and Delia in a tap dance class. The girls ended up taking part in the week-long show. "And from then on, they didn't want to do any other kind of dancing," said Valerie. “You don't need to be Irish to like performing" added her sister.
It's all an expensive business, the sisters continued. They often end up staying in hotels when they travel to competitions. The dresses cost about $2,200 on average; the shoes, which need to be replaced twice a year, around $145 . Then there are lessons, "and other little things here and there," as Valerie put it. "The whole day is expensive, between food, travel and everything else.”
Irish dancing can also involve a family day out for many. "We get to do everything as a family, whether it's a four-hour car ride or a little stay in a hotel," said Paul Chaney from Newburyport, MA. His daughters Jeanmarie, 16, and twins Colleen and Mary-Kate, 14, started Irish dancing when a neighbor told them how much fun it was.
But it’s not always fun for their dad. "It's a bit of a grind,” Chaney joked. “Dads are there to carry stuff, really.”
Heidi Nidds from New Jersey was with her son Lackie, who competed in the Under 13s competition. When his grandparents saw "Riverdance," he said "They got me the video and I just loved it.” His mother said that Irish dancing is a time-consuming passion. "But it gives him great confidence,” she continued. “In his school, he is like a celebrity.”
Anne Meagher, whose parents are Irish, has a son Declan, who is 10 and hopes to be the next Michael Flatley. "I even made up a treble reel like what he does" he said, referring to his hero.
Declan finished second in the Under 9 Open Championships. How many people competed?
"Two" came the deadpan reply.