It wasn’t just the dancers who had come from far afield at the World Irish Dancing Championships this week – vendors from all over the U.S. and beyond came to Philadelphia to sell every kind of paraphernilia connected with Irish dancing.
Cathy Brimhill, who was selling wigs and various other accessories at the ‘Emerald Key’ stall in the Marriott Hotel, traveled from Portland, Oregon, for the event. She’s a seasoned Feis veteran at this stage, attending competition regularly both for the company she works for, and to accompany her daughter. Brimhill's work involves extensive travel – “I’ve seen so many hotels at this point,” she said.
Still, she enjoys the Irish dancing competitions. “It’s still a privilege to be here. I never get tired of it.” Occasionally, however, long periods of time away from home can take a bit of a toll. “I guess I do get a little homesick from time to time.” Her next Feis is in San Francisco.
Brimhill’s co-worker, Julia Milligan, was also a well-traveled Feis vendor, and a Feis mother. “Last July 4th, I drove a truck with five kids from California to Nashville,” she said. She plans on doing the same this summer.
A few stalls down from Emerald Key, 16-year-old Alex Bruno was manning the stall for Irishwigs.com – “Best Quality, Lowest Prices”, a company that operates out of Phoenix Arizona. “Ka-bangz” were going for $18; wigs for around $20. Bruno knew her products well – as an Irish dancer herself, she knows how important it is for Irish dancers to have their outfits as perfect as can be.
“Just like anything, appearance matters,” Bruno said. “The judges aren’t going to lose you marks for your outfit, but the more elaborate you are, the more you’ll stand out.”
Bruno dances with the Bracken School of Irish Dance in Phoenix – and added that she has multiple outfits herself, depending on the type of Irish dancing competition she is in.
Husband and wife team Julian and Lisa Wild are the owners and manufactures of “Corr’s Irish Dance Shoes,” a company that is based in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Corr comes from his mother's mother’s maiden name, “'Wild Irish Dance Shoes’ might have turned some people off,” he said.
Despite the recession, business has been going well for the company, Julian said. “I think dance wear is almost recession-proof. It’s as if people need picking up,” he said.
Still, it’s an expensive business: dresses at one stall manned by Michael Boyle, a dance instructor from Boston, can cost between $1,000 and $2,000. These dresses are simply known as “Gavin’s” from Belfast designer Gavin Doherty.
Across the hall from Corr’s Irish Shoes was “Blarney Celtic Marketplace,” which was run by its owner and operator, Shay Clarke. Clarke travels the length and breathe of the country, going not just to Irish dance competitions, but to all kinds of Irish festivals, selling Irish jewelry “It’s coast to coast kind of stuff,” he said. “But I love it.”
As he talked about how business was doing, Mary Casey from San Francisco walked up to the stall, to buy a Claddagh ring, which Clarke proudly explains to her was manufactured in Talbot Street in Dublin. Casey was buying the ring for her 10-year-old daughter, who was competing in her first world championship – and who’ll be turning 11 next week.