My first foray into the world of Irish dancing had me intrigued and full of admiration. Mamas, those steps! The lightening speed and finesse with which they are carried out is exhausting just to watch. It’s lucky I was mostly watching. You see the class at the O’Connor Barton Irish Dance School was for Ava, my 3 year old, to trial for our Sassy Mama readers and give you some feedback on this ever-popular dance style! After all, who can forget the electrifying phenomenon Riverdance and Michael Flatley?
So as toddlers tend to at the most inopportune moments, Ava launched into an uncharacteristic ‘shy’ moment upon arrival at the class, demanding I stand very close and attempt some of the warm up moves with her. Unfortunately, a dancer I am not!
But it was great to watch as under the expert guidance of qualified teacher and former professional Irish dancer Kathryn O’Connor Barton — who’s been dancing since she was just a wee tot herself — the children enthusiastically practiced multiple rapid, fast-paced high steps, leaps and kicks in a bright and breezy dance studio on Wyndham St.
Kathryn opened the O’Connor Barton Irish Dance School in 2011, when she moved with her family to Asia from Scotland and it’s been all guns blazing ever since, with a large Irish expat population keen to nurture their Irish heritage as well as dancers from every other nationality in multi-cultural Hong Kong who can’t get enough of the Gaelic charm.
The light and joyous tunes of traditional Irish music can’t help but evoke a sense of revelry, not to mention a sense of patriotism pulling at my Irish roots, tucked away deep inside (hear Irish music and goose bumps are mandatory).
Don’t let the gaiety fool you though, irish dancing is a disciplined exercise requiring patience, plenty of practice and perseverance, especially if you want to make it to a professional level.
The dance school is regularly taking part in international competitions and is affiliated with the Hong Kong International Irish Dance Premiership with dancers from across Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.
The age of the class on this particular day was mixed, ranging from 4-13 year olds. Ava was the youngest at 3 years old, but I was told this was not too early to start jigging! Admittedly her concentration waned a little and I’m not so sure she progressed beyond cute baby elephant steps (takes after her mother sadly), but she most definitely had fun! Mostly though, she just wanted “some shoes like the big girls.”
So what makes a good Irish dancer? According to Kathryn, it’s being able to “take instructions, practice and listen“. Only then will the style, grace and power follow. And mums, if you are always nagging junior about his or her posture, this is the perfect extracurricular activity to put an end to that back slouching! Irish dancing is all about a straight back and arms by your sides! This type of dance is also great for teamwork, with many of the dances involving those mesmerizing two hands, three hands and eight hands (group) dances.
For beginners, Kathryn teaches four light-shoe dances and two heavy-shoe dances. (Prepare yourself for the deafening noise from those heavy shoes, mamas!) If your son or daughter eventually earns his / her stripes and becomes a pro, those gorgeous, glittery costumes don’t come cheap, but we’re in the land of tailors, so you need not fret!
Classes cost between $1000-$1500 a term and it’s not just for kids, mamas can get in on the jigging action too!
For more information, visit www.oconnor-bartonid.com.