Irish stepdancing finds its way to the mountains
Few stage productions have taken the world by storm in such an explosive fashion as did Riverdance, the celebration of Irish stepdancing and music which debuted in Ireland in 1994, and soon afterward captivated audiences with productions staged throughout the world.Today, Riverdance and its sequel, Lord of the Dance, continue to be performed in international touring companies. And now, thanks to a couple of world-champion Irish stepdancers, the magic of Irish stepdancing has come to Summit County.Founded by Shaun Casey and Aisling Toal-Casey, the dance studio Celtic Steps has locations throughout Colorado, including Denver, Colorado Springs, Lakewood, Pueblo and Woodland Park. And its newest location is Breckenridge, where this past January the couple began giving classes at Abby Hall every Monday.At present, Celtic Steps offers its Breckenridge classes for children under seven and over seven years old. We start kids at around four-and-a-half or five years old at that age we work more on their physical flexibility and get just the basic dance moves going, Casey said.While Celtic Steps also offers adult classes, these arent yet available in Breckenridge, although the couple hopes to add them to the studio roster soon.While Irish stepdancing got its greatest international revival during the 1980s, with the production Riverdance, the dance form actually took on its first surge of popularity around the turn of the century in Ireland, when a wave of nationalism gave birth to a resurgence of interest in Irish culture. Irish stepdancing, which in its solo form is characterized by a stiff upper body and precision footwork, can take the form of reels, hornpipes and jigs, depending on the types of shoes worn and, of course, the traditional music accompanying it. Competitive stepdancing first became popular around the turn of the century, but in the decades since Riverdance the Irish stepdancing competition, known as a feis, has taking on a new surge of popularity worldwide. Shaun and Aisling Casey know a great deal about the feis phenomenon. Originally from Lakewood, Shaun began Celtic stepdancing when he was 10 years old, after becoming fascinated by a performance of Irish dancers at the annual Highland Games in Estes Park. By the time he was in his late teens, he had placed fourth in the North American championships four years in a row and placed 10th in the world championships. Thats when Michael Flatley, the leading dancer of Riverdance and creator of Lord of the Dance came calling. Flatley invited Casey to join the world touring company of Lord of the Dance. While on tour, Casey met Aisling Toal, a young dancer from Belfast, who started stepdancing at the age of three. After competing in international competitions for more than a decade she, too, was invited to join Flatleys Lord of the Dance world tour where she and Shaun Casey met and fell in love.After nine years of touring with Lord of the Dance, two years ago the couple retired from the road and got married in Denver. Their next great adventure was the birth of Celtic Steps, which has grown to six teaching locations in two years, thanks to the continuing popularity of Celtic music and dance.Almost everyone has heard of Riverdance or Lord of the Dance, and this really grabs people, because for them its a new, high energy dance form, Casey said. And Americans really tap into their Irish roots when were performing, everyone always comes up and asks us if we happen to know their relatives back in Ireland, he added. And, of course, theres always the popularity of St. Patricks Day especially as its celebrated here in Colorado.This past St. Patricks Day, we did 80 performances in four days, Casey recalled with a laugh. We had 10 different dance teams running around to perform at pubs all over Denver and Colorado Springs.This July, at the nationals in Nashville, a team from Celtic Steps placed third. In the individual competitions, two boys placed 10th, while several girls placed in the top 40 out of several hundred competitors.Prior to going to the nationals, several of the top dancers from Celtic Steps performed at Napper Tandys in Breckenridge this past June. Two young dancers from the Breckenridge performance were 15-year-old Jessica Lesser and 14-year old Kylee Fehr, both from Aurora. Jessica Lesser started lessons at the age of three, after her parents saw a performance of Riverdance and decided that Irish stepdancing would be a fun family project.My parents started it, but it was me that kept up with it, said Jessica, who entered her first competition at the age of five.The high school sophomore has kept up with it for 12 years now, and has no intention of ever hanging up her dancing shoes.I just love doing it especially around St. Patricks Day and the competitions are lot of fun, she said.Kylee Fehr was around 4 years old when she began her journey into the world of Irish stepdancing.I was watching Riverdance on PBS and I told my mom that I wanted to do this, she said.The high school freshman has now been dancing for 10 years, and along with fellow dancer Jessica, participates in about 10 competitions a year.Both Jessica and Kylee admit that they love competing, not only for the excitement of the competition, but also for the adventure of traveling the word. This spring, both dancers competed in Ireland, where they plan to return next year. And in the nationals earlier this month, both Jessica and Kylee ranked in the top 50 out of several hundred competitors. Kylee and Jessica both hope someday to tour with one of the professional Irish stepdance touring companies, such as Riverdance and Lord of the Rings and perhaps, like their mentors Shaun and Aisling, open their own studios one day.Its a lot of hard work, but its so much fun, Kylee said. Celtic Steps plans to start classes in Breckenridge again in mid-August. For more information, call (303) 771-1209 or go online to their website at http://www.celticsteps.org
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