If Rochester teenager Liam Connolly had been born 15 years earlier, incessant teasing and jeering might have made his Irish dancing hobby impossible to continue. But thanks to the advent of professional dance shows like Riverdance and Lord of the Dance this particular style of dancing has exploded in popularity among young men.
Liam (17), a member of the Drumcliffe school of dance in New York, explained: “Sometimes the other kids make fun of it, but I think they respect what I do”.
His mom Heidi revealed another impressive side-effect of Irish dancing for a young man, explaining: “Liam goes to an all-boys school and every year they have a performance. Liam always comes in with seven gorgeous girls from his dance class and all the guys are absolutely amazed and jealous! We call them Liam’s harem!”
Yes, it seems the days when male dancers are derided for taking part in a “girly” hobby are thankfully over. And rightly so. One glance at the young men competing at this year’s World Irish Dancing Championships in Dublin shows that the skill requires more stamina and athleticism than most other sports.
Heidi told the Irish Voice: “His coaches in school are always amazed at his fitness and the way he can move, they say he’s ambidextrous”.
17-year-old Patrick Holland from Columbus, Ohio has had a similar experience. Patrick, whose relatives on his mother’s side came from Donegal, is a member of the Richens Timm school of dance.
His experience with Irish dancing has been immensely positive as he explained: “My friends think it’s pretty cool”. And he added: “I play basketball and tennis too and Irish dancing has really helped with my fitness which makes a big difference in sports”.
New Jersey dancer Owen Riley certainly knows how to silence his critics, because he knows he’s a far better athlete than any of his pals who might tease him for dancing.
He explained: “I tried out for the track team in school. I just wanted to see how I’d do and I ended up breaking almost all of the school records, so I have the second best stamina of anybody in the school. I don’t do track any more though because I don’t want to risk doing damage to my feet”.
As for his friends, he insisted; “they don’t really call Irish dancing girly. Whenever people hear that I’m an Irish dancer they always ask me about it”.
Irish dancing also plays a huge role in the life of Conor O’Brien from Boston. The pupil of O’Shea-Caplin School of Dance is currently competing in his eighth World Championship.
“I wasn’t really happy with how I danced last year”, he admitted. “My aim is to have three solid rounds and that’s enough because you can’t control the judges”.
Conor also revealed he’s hoping to see the World Dancing Championships returning to Belfast next year so that he can visit his relations there.
Unfortunately for one young dancer, the World Championship experience came to a premature end today thanks to an injury.
Mary Daley (15) competed yesterday in the Girls Under 16 Ceili competition with her classmates from the Trinity School of Dance in Chicago and Milwaukee.
She told the Irish Voice: “I danced in the teams competition but my leg was really sore and afterwards they said that I wouldn’t be able to dance in the solo competition today”.
Connecticut dancer Bridget Oei (15) knows all about disappointing injuries. The pupil of Griffith dance school endured a devastating World Championships last year when she broke her hip during her first round dance.
Bridget, who boasts both Irish and Chinese roots, explained: “I was doing my hornpipe and when I came down on my foot from a high click my stomach muscles contracted and pulled a piece of my hipbone out. It didn’t hurt right away and I was near the end so I just kept dancing because I wanted a recall! As soon as I walked off stage I collapsed.
“I had to stop dancing for 10 weeks. I drove my physical therapist mad because I kept asking when I could go back dancing. Thankfully I got back in time for the Nationals where I came eighth”.