Irish dance organisation An Comhdháil recently held their All England Championships at the magnificent Colosseum theatre in Watford.
Hundreds of competitors from 20 schools around the country took part, ranging from beginner to open championship level, and many of these qualified to go forward to the World Championships which will be held at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast at Eastertime.
Adjudicators invited to the event in Watford were Dolores O’Kane, Doreen Tierney, Jean Mulcahy Harris and Dairina Daniels who all travelled over from Ireland.
A special guest at the All England Championships was the newly elected president of An Comhdháil, Collette McGee. Born in Belfast, Collette started dancing at age five. She won many championship titles and was senior Belfast champion in the year that she retired from competition. She qualified as a teacher (TCRG) in 1966 and went on to be one of the founder members of An Comhdháil.
Collette was accompanied by her husband Pat McGee who is no stranger to treading the boards of competitive Irish dancing at the highest level and was himself seven times All Ireland champion. It was not surprising therefore that their children Patricia and Caitriona should follow in their dancing footsteps, becoming An Comhdháil teachers, and are carrying on the long held tradition of the McGee family.
In her address to the audience on the final day of the championships President Collette McGee spoke of her pleasure in witnessing such high standards of dancing, an art form which she described as “an integral part of our national culture”.
She saluted those ancestors who long ago emigrated from the length and breadth of Ireland to British shores but so cherished their language, music and dance traditions that they preserved them and handed them down from generation to generation so that they still continue to this day.
“I firmly believe those who participate in [Irish] dancing are not only given the opportunity to acquire the necessary skills to perform the beautiful and intricate movements of both solo and figure work but also enables children from a very young age to absorb important and valuable life skills including respect, resilience, reliability and resourcefulness and above all enjoyment, fun and forming lifetime friendships….”
She spoke of her sense of pride and reassurance that so many An Comhdháil members, especially young teachers are carrying on the tradition of teaching Irish dancing throughout Ireland and beyond.
It gave her confidence that An Comhdháil was in good hands and will continue to endure and thrive in the years ahead. She gave special thanks to parents for supporting their children in the gift of dance, not least in terms of time and resources, which she described as no mean task considering the constraints of modern day living. She ended by quoting the words of social reformer Havelock Ellis who said ‘Dancing is the loftiest, the most beautiful of the arts, because it is not the mere translation or abstraction from life…it is life itself ‘.
And clearly the applause of the audience indicated unanimous agreement. Personally I am not surprised that someone should describe dancing in such a lofty way, but I’m mildly surprised by its original authorship. I also agree that dancing is the most beautiful of the arts and I offer my best wishes to all those who will go forward from the Watford Colosseum to the magnificent Waterfront Hall in Belfast this Easter.
For more photos from the event, pick up this week’s copy of The Irish World
John Egan looks ahead to 2017 and meets a would-be world champion Mairéad Trainor who gives advice for competitive dancers hoping to move up a level