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The rainy New York weather didn't keep the Irish from dancing the day away on the Hudson River at the Irish Arts Center’s annual New York City Irish Dance Festival.
About 1200 people turned out despite truly miserable conditions. As organizer Pauline Turley said, "We're Irish. We're doing it rain or shine."
Turley, who is the vice chairperson of the Irish Arts Center, said this was the first time in the event’s eight-year history that the weather went against them.
Niall O’Leary, artistic director of the festival and founder of the Niall O’Leary School of Irish Dance, was just as enthusiastic. “There are certain types who crawl under stones when it rains,” he said.
“But we’re here to find those stones, lift them up, and get those people out here dancing!”
And dance they did.
At the event’s halfway mark, more than 600 people had turned out to learn, participate in and experience Irish dance, and the organizers expected to at least double that amount by the day’s end.
Hundreds of Irish dance enthusiasts – and a few curious passerbys – stopped by the festival to watch the dance performances, take part in the dance workshops, hear the traditional music and participate in a Q&A with the stars of Broadway’s “Billy Elliot.”
Rachael Gilkey of the Irish Arts Center, the event’s producer, was thrilled with the number of people who gathered on the basketball courts of Manhattan’s Riverside Park.
“Considering the bad weather, this is a great turnout,” she said. “It’s the first time we’re having to go with the rain plan, and everything’s running smoothly, and the participants are gung ho. It’s great that we’re still able to present this festival in New York, the only one of its kind.”
The New York Irish Dance Festival provides Irish dancers with the opportunity to perform outside of competition.
"Here, dancers dance with a smile because the pressure’s off,” said O’Leary.
The festival aims to recreate “the way it used to be in Ireland,” as Turley puts it, with Sunday ceilis and social events for the whole family. The event puts an emphasis on family, fun, diversity and collaboration.
For instance, Keltic Dreams, an Irish dance troupe of 34 African-American, Latino and Indian students from PS 59 in the Bronx, invited the 45 performing dancers from Niall O’Leary’s school to join them on stage for the treble reel for a special shared performance.
“I just love collaborating,” said Keltic Dreams’ founder Caroline Duggan. “That’s just magic to me, bringing all of these cultures and people together through Irish dance.”
The success of the eighth annual Irish Dance Festival is expected to be used as a model for upcoming Summer on the Hudson cultural events.