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The Big Apple Feis that took place this weekend was largely the work of one person’s vision: Unateresa Gormley, a woman who has dedicated much of her life to Irish dancing.
Gormley is the founding member of the Big Apple Feis Performing Arts Presenters. A few months back, she decided that it was time New York City, which surprisingly hadn’t had a feis in 25 years, should host a major Irish dancing competition.
Gormley runs a dancing school in Orange County, NY. She stated dancing when she was three, and won her first championship at the age of eight. Her father is from Kerry and her mother form Longford. Her family is remarkably musical – her brother Michael Shehan can play 17 different instruments.
Neither her son Shea, nor her husband, Sam, who is originally from Tyrone, has much interest in Irish dancing. “My husband says that Irish dancing is about as much fun as watching paint dry,” she said. “But if that’s the case, I could watch paint dry for hours. Irish dancing is just one of those things that’s in your blood and in your soul.”
One of the other organizers, Gerald Carson from Belfast, met Gormley through an organization called Project Children, which places children from Northern Ireland, both Catholics and Protestants, in families across North America. “He calls me his American mum,” Gormley jokes. Carson is a student at Jordanstown University in Belfast, and four-time Word Champion.
Even though Carson was in thousands of miles away in Belfast, he was very much involved in the project – he was, for instance, in charge of running the Big Apple Feis’s Facebook group.
When Gormley decided to put on the Big Apple Feis, she knew well that it was going to be a massive undertaking. Things were made considerably harder by the recession – the original plan was to get five or six major sponsors on board.
That didn’t happen – and much of the feis was instead funded by the entry fees. It’s an expensive undertaking. Judges and adjudicators have to be flown into the city and given accommodation. The trophies – which don’t come cheap – have to be taken care of, and then there’s insurance (one girl unfortunately fell off the stage, mid-dance, which caused a mini-panic.)
Still, Gormley was nevertheless very happy with how things went – and our interview was occasionally interrupted by various parents telling her, "great feis!"
"At times it's been stressful to make sure everything was on time," she said. "There were a couple of hitches here and there, but all in all it was good."
And in two weeks time, Gormley heads to Philadelphia, for the World Championships. "I'm looking forward to being a specatator and not an organizer for that one," she said, tired - but happy.