So many times I’ve heard it said that the drinking water in Ulster contains a secret ingredient, just like a well-known lager, designed to reach and energise the feet and toes of Irish dancers. Or is it something in the Londonderry air that encourages Ulster kids to set their feet a’dancing.
Irrespective of the dancing organisation or style of dance, be it Coimisiún or Comhdháil, festival or open platform, Ulster seems to produce a disproportionate population of dancers. And dare I say their achievements across the organisational board at major national and world championships indicate that Cúige Uladh continually punches above its weight in terms of podium placements.
Among the very many successful Ulster dance schools in the various organisations is the Antrim-based Royal Tara Dance Academy, centred in Carrickfergus, with classes in neighbouring towns on the coastal causeway north of Belfast.
The school, which is a member of CRDM, was established over 50 years ago by June McCalmont, and now has six qualified teachers including daughters Ruth and Marti, and is extremely well placed to organise this major event in the CRDM calendar.
The academy is keen to emphasise that its pupils come from all parts of the community and are exposed to both traditional and contemporary Irish dancing styles. Over the decades it has created many champions and many lifelong friends along the way. And many of these were on hand to help with the tasks around the seventh annual CRDM Ulster Championships.
Carrickfergus is a popular summer destination for day trippers and holiday-makers and the population on this occasion was further swollen by the several hundred dancers and their families who converged on the town’s Leisure Centre & Amphitheatre from all over the island of Ireland and from most parts of the UK.
The weekend weather held fair, in spite of gloomy met warnings, and the local holiday atmosphere was enhanced by the fairground carnival on the seafront, hard against Carrigfergus Castle walls.
Was it any wonder that dance families tacked on an extra day to their stay at this seaside town in order to take in a visit to the Norman castle, to scream awhile on the fairground death rides, or just to saunter with ice creams along the several miles of sea front.
Forgive me for saying so, but Carrickfergus felt like a million miles away from the feiseanna I attend in the London area or at other inner city venues. As one should expect of a modern multi-purpose sports and leisure centre, the venue was perfect for this very busy event, with all the facilities that could possibly be needed.
Its tiered seating was possibly the icing on the cake. Surprisingly tiered seating is not always a feature at venues for even the most prestigious dance events, including world championships.
The organisation and stage management were slick, as were the award ceremonies which moved along according to a well planned timetable in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
As in previous years I can’t praise Carrickfergus and its leisure venue highly enough as a location in which to mix your dance competition with a little relaxation and a holiday break.
Our experience, and the experience of all those who travelled to the championships from down south will testify that the border is friendly and soft. Hopefully it will remain so even after a hard Brexit or whatever the future holds for the current negotiations.