by Jan Dixon
WEA — The theatrical show “Riverdance” brought the art of Irish dancing to a worldwide audience.
Emily Fuchs McCarty brought it to Wea.
After watching Irish dancers in a parade, McCarty started taking lessons at the age of 9. She performed in many parades, competed all the way to the world-stage level and danced with world-renowned groups like The Chieftains, Irish Tenors and The Elders.
Eventually, she took a step back from dancing and teaching to focus on her family. And she moved to Wea, where she soon became part of the Queen of the Holy Rosary family.
“I was blown away by the sense of community here,” she said. “The more I was a part of the parish and school, the more I wanted to give back.”
Offered the opportunity and space to teach Irish dance at the school, McCarty began with pre-K through eighth-graders. Students started with soft-shoe dances in order to gain the basic foot control and motor planning needed. Once the young dancers developed muscle and body control, hard-shoe dances were introduced.
“Irish dance is a combination of athleticism and artistic balletic form,” said McCarty. “We concentrate on finding the balance between the two.”
The main types of Irish dancing are formal and regimented, with little upper body movement, precise and quick foot movement, and a certain number of required steps.
McCarty was taught that the shoe is the drumstick and the floor is the drum. Each and every beat of the music is sounded out with the foot.
“It will make your soccer kicks stronger and your basketball jumps higher,” she said.
Irish dancing has stayed true to its original form. McCarty likes that the dances are the same here in Kansas as they would be anywhere in the world.
“I like that we are doing the same dances that were done generations ago,” she said.
History and culture are also part of the classes. Dancers weave like knots in the “Book of Kells,” move like the waves of Tory and the walls of Limerick. They wear soft shoes called ghillies and costumes embroidered with the claddagh.
Jigs, reels, hornpipes and sets are just a few of the solo and group dances learned by the students.
A favorite is the ceili (pronounced kay-lee), a group dance based on those done at the crossroads in Ireland hundreds of years ago, where people would meet and dance around a bonfire.
“The kids love this group dance,” said McCarty. “They let loose, spin with a partner and build arches through which they all pass.”
Nick Antista, school principal, sees benefits from the program.
“It improves each child’s social skills as they work together as a group, helps them to develop confidence as their skills improve, and builds community as our students get to know peers throughout the parish,” he said.
Kathy Benne, parent of 12-year-old Megan, said her daughter was excited to try a new type of dancing and that she really enjoys the moves and the music.
“We have seen benefits of her being exposed to a different type of dance and culture and appreciate the added health benefits she gets from Irish dancing,” she said.
In November, dance classes will also be offered for students not attending the Catholic school. This will allow McCarty, known to students as Mrs. Emily, to pass on her love for Irish dance to a larger audience and will bring the community into the parish school.
McCarty recently started a dance company called Heartland Irish Dancers located in Peculiar, Missouri, and Bucyrus. All ages are welcome.
“Try it out,” she said. “If you like it, I will help you become good at it.”
Parents have been very pleased with the Irish dancing. And it’s not just for girls.
Megan White has an 8-year-old son in the program who likes the style of music and the fast pace of movement.
“Mrs. Emily is a very patient instructor. She notices even the smallest improvements,” she said.
Parades and performances are in the near future for these dancers.
“Irish dancing is really joyful,” said McCarty. “I am excited to pass this on to a new generation.”