In the practice hall of the Marriot Hotel, various sections of the room were cordoned off by groups of dances and their teachers for final rehearsals.
One teacher, sounding a little testy, tells her students, “Some people are swinging their arms – some are not!” Another instructor tells one of her group, “Nice opening!” while another asks a student, “What’s going on in your line?!”
The job of the Irish dance teacher of the World Championships is not an easy one: They are there to console, to offer encouragement, to make sure that every last detail is absolutely perfect.
And some, who have young students unaccompanied by parents, also have to do a little mothering (or indeed fathering) from time to time.
Maureen Cavanaugh from Cleveland, Ohio, was one teacher going through a final rehearsal before her students from the Murphy Irish Arts Center in Beachwood, Ohio, would perform in the dramas the following day. Along with her aunt, Sheila Murphy-Crawford, Maureen was making sure that the students were as practiced perfect as could be.
“It’s a whole year of advance preparation,” Maureen explained. “As soon as last year’s Worlds ended, we just started getting ready for the next one.”
The level of organization and planning involved in bringing a group of 33 dancers across the country for the competition can be daunting, Maureen said. A lot of fundraising needs to be done in the months before the competition – “What you put in, you get out,” she said.
But has plenty of experience in it at this stage – she took a team to last year’s World’s in Belfast. “This time around, it’s nice not to have to travel abroad.”
In the group events, one of the skills of the Irish dancing teacher is to iron out any potential personality clashes – after all, these are team events where team work is essential. And because most of the dancers in the group events will also be solo performers also, occasionally, egos and prima donnas need to be brought down to earth.
“Anytime you get a group of dancers like this,” said Maureen Cavanaugh, as her team wrapped up its final rehearsal, “you are always going to get some big personalities. But they all have to be team players, and they all have to earn the right to be here.”
A few feet away from the niece-aunt teacher team from Ohio, was a mother-daughter team from New York, who were also running their students though a few last minute drills.
Anna O’Sullivan, who was born in Glasgow to Irish parents, immigrated to the U.S. in 1963, and went on to set up the school of Irish dance in Westchester that bears her name. Her daughter, Deirdre O’Sullivan Toolan, who runs the school today, is also a physiotherapist. “It’s a lot of work, especially with a fulltime job,” she said. “There’s a lot of paperwork to do, but the parents are very helpful.”
And finally, IrishCental.com caught up with a teacher unit in final rehearsals of different kind: according to teacher Patricia Martig, from Seattle, Washington, she and Robert Hartley, the director of the Scoil Rince Slieveloughane, play a “good cop, bad cop,” routine. (She didn’t specify who was who – but she sounded a little too pleasant to play a convincing “bad cop.”)
“It can be very stressful, but 99 percent of the time, it’s fun,” Patricia said. “But we want to win. We have eight really great kids, who all support each other, so I think we have a really good chance.”
Are any of her students nervous?
“I think we are more nervous than they are,” she said. “We work as hard as they do on all this – but when the time comes, we have no control over what happens, and it’s all down to them.”