The Carshalton Boys Sports College in the London Borough of Sutton played host to the 17th South of England Open Championships, and I believe I attended the first one, also held at a Carshalton school.
It is one of the biggest feiseanna in An Comhdhail calendar in England and it continues to grow in terms of the number of schools and dancers it attracts. On this occasion dancers came from a total of 30 schools, including six schools from Ireland and five from Scotland.
The venue with its tiered theatre seating provided an excellent setting for the championships, and except for those who travelled from Scotland, Ireland and places far away from London, it was a central location for the vast majority of the Comhdhail dancing population who attended from the south of England region. Dance teacher Michelle Steen-Plommer has organised this event for most years of its existence.
Her parents Stan and Mary were her ‘left and right hand’ mentors and stalwarts and were present to help her at all of the championships until Mary’s untimely death (RIP).
Apart from the very youngest of dancers Mary will be remembered fondly by all competitors and teachers who attended over the years.
Something that has become a feature of this event’s awards, introduced by Michelle in her mother’s memory, is the Mary Steen Memorial Cup (MSMC), presented for reels and traditional set dances in six different age groups.
Michelle’s dad, mild mannered and self-effacing Stan, continues to support and work behind the scenes every year, and I suspect he is the first person to arrive and last to leave to ensure that the school’s temporary dancing configuration is returned to its normal education configuration, before the students return to school on Monday morning, unaware of the army of dancers who trod on their hallowed floors over the weekend.
I ask myself how I might rate this event in the overall melange (to use a word playfully favoured by Terry Wogan) of Irish dancing competitions. It had respected, experienced adjudicators from Ireland; it had my favourite dance musician (Clue: from London/Essex); it had a display of indisputably high standard Irish dancing; the timetabling ran fairly well to time on both days and was a tribute to the evident organisational contribution of the Steen school’s dancers and parents and also from teacher colleagues in the region.
But I’m bound to say that the most enjoyable feature for me was the ‘Walkers competition’, and NO, this competition isn’t sponsored by a crisps company. This dance was for the very young, some aged three or less, enticed onto the stage by teachers or by Mums, and encouraged by the rapturous applause of a family audience. Alone on the stage they took their first tentative steps to an appreciative audience.
Their dancing could be described as a parade of child champions. Some day they will be centre pieces in a real ‘Parade of Champions’ and if God spares me ‘twould be nice to be there.