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Niall O’Leary School of Irish Dance gets ready to perform at the 2008 Irish Arts Center Irish Dance Festival Photo by: Nuala Purcell

The Irish dance their way to the Hudson

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Niall O’Leary School of Irish Dance gets ready to perform at the 2008 Irish Arts Center Irish Dance Festival Photo by: Nuala Purcell

The best of the best step-dancers in the northeast will once again come together at this year’s New York City Irish Dance Festival, presented by the Irish Arts Center.

The festival, now in its eighth year, takes place this Sunday, May 3 in Riverside Park South, and will feature guest appearances by the stars of the hit Broadway show “Billy Elliot,” performances from the best Irish dance troupes in the area, workshops in traditional Irish dance steps, live music and more.

The festival has grown year after year, and now attracts 2,000 people annually. Irish dance celebrities including “Riverdance” lead Jean Butler, “Lord of the Dance” have performed at the festival over the years.

The free, “family fun” festival kicks off the Summer on the Hudson series in New York's. Experienced Irish dancers will appreciate performances by stars of the Irish dance world and dance schools from the N.Y. area, while beginners can take advantage of the open workshops in many styles of traditional Irish dance.

Even if Irish dance isn’t your forte, there are plenty of other Irish activities to take part in: music seisiúns, Irish language conversation circles, an Irish song workshop, Irish crafts and plenty of food and drink.

Niall O’Leary, the New York Irish Dance Festival’s artistic director and founder of the Niall O’Leary School of Irish Dance, which will have 40 dancers performing at the festival, describes the event as a “celebration of the most visible, most vibrant and most venerated aspect of Irish culture: Dance, in all it's different forms.”

“This is achieved by bringing together some of the top practitioners in traditional and contemporary step, set and ceili dancing in New York City and the surrounding areas,” O’Leary told IrishCentral.

“It is a unique event, where everyone can attend and have fun, watching top performances, participating in fun workshops and everyone-out-on-the-floor simple group dances. Mom can dance along with the kids while dad hangs at the bar, or vice versa.

“The setting, a pier on the Hudson river, is magnificent and very different from the typical school gymnasium or grassy field where Irish dancers and their families usually mingle,” he said.

The festival will open at 12:30 p.m. with a meet-and-greet question and answer period with the young stars of “Billy Elliot,” and will end with a bang with a rousing céilí dance.

Confirmed participants for 2009 include: champion Irish dancers Trent Kowalik, David Bologna and Heather Burns of Broadways’ “Billy Elliot”; Donny Golden Dancers; Niall O'Leary Irish Dance Troupe;  2009 Senior Ladies Step Dance World Champion Ashley Smith; Darrah Carr Dance; Niall O'Leary School of Irish Dance; the Keltic Dreams Irish Dance Troupe from PS 159 in the Bronx; Solas an Lae;  and Kathleen Collins.   

The festival will take place rain or shine on Sunday, May 3 from 12:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Riverside Park South, Pier I at West 70th Street in Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson River.

For more information visit the Irish Arts Center's Web site.

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