John Egan visited the McManigan school in Shorne
Each year most dance schools hold a class feis and many are held around the Christmas period in order to combine a display of internal but competitive dancing with a dollop of festive fun.
This is always the case with the McManigan class feis which this year was held in the community hall of the quaint Kent village of Shorne.
The primary function of the class feis is to give dancers, particularly the younger ones, the opportunity to compete in a feis environment, albeit against just their school colleagues.
Not only does this friendly environment encourage their competitive skills, it is also an opportunity for the whole family to watch the dancing development of a daughter, son or sibling. And families from all over the Medway towns descended on Shorne Village to watch their kids and to enjoy the day.
It says a lot for their enthusiasm that for most it meant a dawn rising in order to ensure costume, hair and make-up were properly in place before leaving home and possibly even before breakfast.
This year the cohort of new beginners seemed greater than ever before and most of these were getting their 15 minutes on stage for the very first time. Some took to the stage like ducks to water but as is usual, a small number had to be cajoled or escorted up the steps by a parent or older dancer.
After the initial shyness was overcome, even the tearful with the most tentative and faltering steps gained a degree of confidence from the generous applause that followed their first reel.
There soon followed the presentation of medals to all which will no doubt embolden them to look forward to their first open feis, to compete with peers from all over the country and to build valuable life confidences and to make new lasting friendships.
Early into the proceedings, after the beginners and novices had finished their competitions, there followed an amazing session of fun céilí involving a group of dancers aged under ten, who entertained the packed hall of appreciative relatives. The display by these youngsters was so polished that it was difficult to credit that these dancers had created their own choreography and costume design.
It also pointed up how a variety of dance genres can be fused with traditional Irish dance and performed to the music of a reel or jig. After the programme of championships the beginners and novices were brought back on stage in time for the arrival of Santa who presented them with medals and trophies. Gone were the tears and shyness that we had witnessed earlier.
I have no doubt that I will see them again in 2017 competing at a feis somewhere in the UK or in Ireland. I guess the world is now their oyster. Teachers Nula and Kirsty are members of an almost antediluvian Irish family who settled in the Medway area several generations ago.
Indeed their grandmother Rita continues to be their mentor and principal organiser at their annual feis. The McManigan academy is always pleased to welcome new dancers, and invites performers to grow within their friendly school based in Kent.
They can be contacted via their website www.irishdancekent.co.uk.