by Kiera Murray
People join the Boston Irish dance scene for a variety of reasons, maybe to embrace their Irish heritage, learn about Irish culture, engage in challenging physical activity, or perform and compete all over the world. For the next generation tapping their toes waiting anxiously to begin, or those hoping to start a new tradition, it is time to sign up for Irish dance. Shona O’Brien of the Keane O’Brien Academy said that September is a great time to begin, as it is the start of a fresh new year for students.
However, the Keane O’Brien Academy (with locations in Braintree and Reading) teaches in trimester blocks, allowing for registration three times per year. Beyond that, The Brady Academy of Irish Dance (locations in Quincy and Milton) and the O’Shea Chaplin Academy of Irish Dance (various locations) run more like a school year, from September through June.
The right age to start depends on the child. The Keane O’Brien academy teaches a Tiny Tots Class for two and a half year olds, where they can start learning the very basics of Irish dance like turning out their feet and clapping to music. The O’Shea Chaplin Academy recommends students join at about age four, when they’ve already have some experience in a class environment. Professional Irish step dancer and teacher Kieran Jordan said age five or six is ideal, because by that time they’ve mastered one essential skill in the world of Irish dance - knowing right from left.
In most schools, students will have the options of dancing purely for recreation, for performance in the community or school productions, and/or on a competition track. No matter what they chose, through dancing young students will gain listening skills, learn about Irish culture and music, and make life-long friends in the studio.
Costs are a factor to consider, especially if students are on the competition track. Besides lesson tuition, costs for a competitive dancer may include shoes, costumes, transportation and accommodations. Some schools do, however, make efforts to keep costs down, such as buying back costumes and shoes and recycling them. Choosing a convenient location is also vital for a consistent routine, especially if families have multiple siblings dancing.
Irish dance provides fun, community, culture and opportunities for students far beyond lines and reels. In the spring, students from the Chaplin O’Shea Academy and the Keane O’Brien Academy were chosen through an audition process to open for Riverdance at the Wang Theatre, dancing on the same stage as their idols. Some dancers chosen were as young as eight years old. “We made it a point to choose the younger students to dance,” said Lisa Chaplin, “because they’re the next generation.”