Irish dancers and their teachers at the country’s first in-person competition since March 2020 have pleaded with the Government to examine the reopening of the sector as a matter of urgency.
Feis in the Park in Pearse Park, Tralee, Co Kerry, will bring together dancers and their families from all over Ireland until Saturday.
Tia Lazzari (9), from Ennis, Co Clare, started Irish dancing when she was four. She says she misses indoor classes. "I used to go [to classes] three days a week. But now I am two days [over Zoom]. I love dancing."
Her dance teacher, Mary Keane, said instructing students over Zoom has been far from ideal.
“It is very hard. The internet connection might not be great. Some nights the connection crashes. Also trying to teach with your fingers and doing it on a screen is difficult. The children all have missed their classes.”
Ms Keane said teachers were also missing out on their livelihoods.
“I am lucky in that I have a full-time job but friends of mine are full-time teachers and they are finding it very hard. There are no after school activities. I have a friend who has been out for 18 months with no income whatsoever.”
James McCutcheon, Cathaoirleach of An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha, gave a speech at the event in which he emphasised the importance of Irish dancing to large numbers of children throughout the country.
He said to reach the pinnacle in Irish dancing, participants have “to train like Olympians”.
Pursuit of excellence
“Excellence in Irish dancing is not something you can switch on and off. If they do not get the support and facilities to properly train, their pursuit of excellence will falter and fall behind their peers overseas who are now back to indoor classes,” he said. “All we ask is that all children are treated equally and that the barriers that are still in place are dismantled.”
Irish dance teacher and adjudicator Michael Donnellan remarked that it was great to see people smiling and jigging again.
“Competition may not be the ultimate but it seems to create such incentives and goals for aspiring dancers. Moreover, for parents, teachers and children I think we just missed people, interaction, camaraderie, and our friendships. When the music starts . . . our hearts lift.”
More than 500 dancers will take part in the event over the coming days. Dancer Lana Rice from Dublin summed up the mood of all the children gathered when she said she had a "smile on her face as big as a bow" after pointing her toe to dance.