It's a Harry Potter alternative universe, the world of Irish competitive dancing. To the outsider it can look like a weird mash-up of Jon Benet Ramsey, Riverdance, and a particularly bad acid trip.
But to the initiated it’s an all-consuming passion that they pour their heart, soul, and frequently their bank balance into.
It's an unexpected thing that Irish dancing is - out of the blue – hip again. In recent years it has been the subject of increasing attention in the media.
Young Irish champions are suddenly finding doors opening to career opportunities they never dreamed of before. And this week, to catch the wave of popularity created by Jig, the outstanding new Irish dancing documentary now showing in theaters, an Irish dance academy which holds classes in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will unveil The Next Step, a new show they vow will become the next Riverdance.
Tradition is important in Irish dance, in fact many would argue that it’s paramount. That’s why The Next Step is sure to cause comment, since it plans to blend traditional Irish dancing technique with modern pop culture.
That’s the kind of forward thinking impulse that made Michael Flatley famous, and the dancers and choreographer of Saturday’s show is hoping it will do the same for Lynn’s core of dedicated students.
Owner and director of the Lynn Academy, Maureen Collins Novaco, has a lifelong passion for the art and is a certified Irish dance adjudicator herself. As a former Riverdance performer, she knows what is expected from her students and she knows how to deliver it.
Collins Novaco also won the North American Irish dancing competition two years in a row. Now her passion is watching her students work hard to achieve their own Irish dancing goals.
So when The Next Step takes place in White Plains High School on Saturday, June 25 at 7 p.m., the entire cast and crew will be hoping that some of the recent Irish dancing magic captivating the globe will come their way.
“It’s a show and not a recital,” Kathleen Duggan, a proud parent who is also a promoter of the event told the Irish Voice. “The dancers are going all out for this and we expect an audience of up to 300, many of whom will be qualified adjudicators themselves.”
So don’t expect just a typical hard shoe shuffle. The dancers and choreographers have been playing with the form and bringing their own pop culture references to the form, the better to expand its relevance and appeal. It’s the recipe for success the Lynn Academy dancers are following on Saturday night.
If you don’t live in the world of Irish competitive dancing you won’t realize how hard the dancers work to perfect their craft. Nor will you realize how much it costs to create and maintain their eye-catching costumes.
But as films like Jig allow some light to fall on this secret world for the very first time, more and more young people are becoming intrigued by the competition and camaraderie that it clearly represents.
Just have a look at the impressive box office numbers for Jig this past weekend. The film grossed a total of over $70,000 in five cities with a per screen average of $14,086. The per-screen in New York was over $19,000.
Jig was the highest grossing new independent release last weekend and will continue to do well as it rolls out nationally beyond the opening weekend markets of New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and Toronto. That expansion also leads into the North American Irish Dance Championships, which will be held from July 3-7 in Nashville, and which almost every Irish dance student at the Lynn Academy is gearing up for after The Next Step.
It’s their dedication and love for the art form that’s so infectious, and it’s the creative spark that turns a good show into a great one. As the academy sets the bar higher for itself each year in terms of public events like The Next Step, their ambition is rewarded by the achievements of their students at championship levels.
But the school is also gaining something invaluable for the continuation of the art itself -- massive public interest and a new generation of willing dancers, all ready to discover the magic of Irish dance.