It’s a long time since Kathleen Blake has danced herself, but she loves dancing, and she follows her three grand-nieces across the country as they compete in contest after contest.
“I love the costumes, the wigs, the music, the competition, the people, the camaraderie,” she says. “I’m obsessive about Irish dance. We’re groupies. We travel wherever they go.”
Kathleen is sitting with Ann-Marie Foy, the children’s grandmother, taking a break at the Mulvilhill-Lynch Feis. It was they, and not the girls’ parents, who first introduced the kids to dance, and they never suspected how much the children would take to it.
It’s not just moms and dads who escort their young charges to dance competitions – it’s grandmothers and grand-aunts too, and for them especially, it’s a way of connecting with Ireland.
“After each dance I feel like I’m back there,” Ann-Marie says.
Kathleen and Ann-Marie grew up in the Bronx in an Irish neighborhood before coming to Long Island. There, the Irish community was strong, and they both learned to dance.
“In the Bronx, the dad who brought us to classes was always drunk and he would forget to pick us up!” Ann-Marie says, adding that she’d often have to make her own way home.
As well as the gorgeous visuals at the feis – the elaborate wigs and sparkling dresses, the tapping heels and intricate steps – both women say that the ties of friendship that develop between the girls are important.
It reminds Ann-Marie of growing up in the Bronx. “The older kids watch out for the younger kids. In the Bronx, the older kids would take the younger ones to the park. It’s like that.”
Neither Kathleen nor Ann-Marie has ever been to Ireland, but they hope to go soon, when the girls qualify for the world championships. “I think they have to be 10 for that,” says Ann-Marie.
Just then, the phone rings. “My granddaughter got second and third place,” Ann-Marie exclaims! “Ah, sure she’s got beautiful footwork.”