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Cathleen Dower Photo by: Handout

In Focus: Cathleen Dower, founder of Fitzgerald School of Irish Dance, NJ

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Cathleen Dower Photo by: Handout

Background: Dower is the founder of Fitzgerald School of Irish Dance in Central New Jersey.

Tell us about your Irish heritage.

“I am third generation Irish American, with my mother’s family coming to New York from Listowel, Co. Kerry and Mohill, Co. Leitrim. My father’s side is from Co. Galway. They eventually settled in New Jersey.”

What is your earliest memory of Irish dance?

“When I was 12 I was able to see Riverdance at Radio City Music Hall with my mom and grandmother. I was mesmerized by the performance and instantly fell in love with Irish dancing.  After my first few classes I was hooked and subsequently left ballet, tap, and jazz to concentrate solely on Irish stepdancing.”

Why do you think Irish dancing is increasing in popularity in the U.S.?

“I believe it’s due to shows such as Riverdance and Lord of the Dance. Before these shows Irish dance was largely unheard of unless you were first generation Irish American. Riverdance brought Irish stepdancing to the forefront, and with it came an influx in interest.

“Many of my contemporaries have gone on to teach Irish dance full time now, and many modern dance schools are now adding an Irish dance class to their schedules along with the standard ballet, tap, jazz and lyrical classes regularly offered.”

Do you think there should be less emphasis on the costume and make-up in Irish dance and more focus on the skill itself?

“This is a good question because I feel strongly on this subject.  I feel that in competitive Irish dance the line between costumes, make-up and the skills of a dancer has gotten blurred. I can understand the importance of stage make-up, but it should not be about how many rhinestones you can fit onto one dress. The dress does not make the dancer. Talent, passion and perseverance do.”

What is the hardest thing about learning to Irish dance?

“The hardest part for me transitioning from contemporary dance to traditional Irish step dancing was remembering to keep my knees straight and my arms by my side. It truly takes incredible core strength and endurance to jump in the air without the use of your arms.” 

Tell us about your recent trip to Ireland.

“My trip to Ireland was for my brother’s wedding in Kenmare, Co. Kerry as well as part family vacation.  Meeting my Irish relatives and seeing the birthplace of my great grandparents really meant a lot to me. 

“My love for Ireland and the culture has grown tenfold now because of this trip. The trip and wedding experience far exceeded all of our expectations! A return trip to Ireland in the near future is certainly part of my plans.”

Interview by Molly Muldoon

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