Irish Dance Takes Over the Month of March
Wednesday, 07 March 2012 18:03
Chris McGrory points to his busy schedule posted with a thumb tack on the wall of his Tucson Irish Dance Company. It is the month of March—the month of the Irish.
At the age of four, McGrory took lessons in Irish step dancing. He danced before he was old enough to enroll in school. "According to my mother dancing was more important than school."
Originally from Dublin, Ireland, McGrory came to the United States for his wife, a fellow Irish dancer he met during a championship. "One of us had to make a move. It was me."
He admits the move to America was a change beyond just language and customs. The most basic foods like bread and milk are much different. "In Ireland the milk is so strong because the cows eat stronger grass. What is considered whole milk here is like non-fat in Ireland."
As for his bread, he isn't thrilled with the American Wonder brands and instead has his bread imported from Ireland. "I have a vendor I order from in San Francisco. The bread is baked in Ireland and then sent frozen to me."
Apart from the food, McGrory said he finds himself missing the smell of fresh cut grass. Ireland is known for luscious greenery and rain. Dublin is a cosmopolitan European city. McGrory jokes that on the outskirts of Dublin people tend to think the Irish sit around and drink whiskey all night.
"Irish as drinkers? It is very much true," McGrory said about the Irish stereotype. "Though it is more of a social thing. The attitude to drink is much different than in the U.S. There is no such thing as ID or getting carded in Ireland."
In Ireland the drinking age is 18. However, teenagers as young as 15 or 16 who look old enough can be served alcohol at a pub, added McGrory.
While his roots are in Ireland, he has made a name for himself not only as professional dancer but as a musician here in the U.S.
He began teaching music in Ireland and continued to teach music in Tucson, but found he enjoyed teaching dance better. As a distinguished composer, McGrory has played in competitions all over the world and his students benefit from learning to dance to his music. He has played 15 times at the World Championships. He is one of few Irish dance musicians to have gone platinum in CD sales.
After a year of living in America, McGrory opened the Tir Conaill Academy of Irish Dance. Tir Conaill is a county in Ireland where his parents are from. His studio is one of only two Irish dance schools in Tucson, Arizona.
Tucson Irish Dance is the marquee above the studio however, not Tir Conaill Academy. "Tucson Irish Dance is the name of the L.L.C, however. I knew if I were to put Tir Conaill on the building people wouldn't know what it was."
Along with the Tucson location, McGrory has studios in Alberqurque and Phoenix. He works with other professional Irish instructors including two-time Irish Dance World Champion Michael Patrick Gallager and the academy's costume expert Rosemary Browne. "People wouldn't expect this but every state in the U.S. now has Irish Riverdance."
River dancing was made popular by Michael Flately, an American who sensationalized his Irish heritage through Irish dancing worldwide. As a teenager, he was the first American to win an All-World Irish Dancing Championship. "Michel Flately really opened the door for Irish dance worldwide," said McGrory.
The month of March kicks off a busy time for the academy, locally and internationally. The academy performs at local Tucson schools and at the annual St. Patrick's Day Festival held on March 17, starting with a special St. Patrick's Morning Blend on the local news station K-GUN9. Other functions include dance competitions called Feis, as well as the Tucson Celtic Festival held the first week of November.
The academy also does performances outside traditionally Irish occasions such as Oktoberfest. This Sunday they will be at the Festival of Books held at the University of Arizona.
But the Superbowl of Irish dance is the World Irish Dancing Championships held every Easter, usually in Ireland.
The World Irish Dancing Championships bring together the best dancers in the world from counties all over including Japan, Australia and England. This year the competition will be held in Belfast, something 12 year-old Channing Stirrat, a student of Tir Conaill, is excited for.
"World's Competition is my favorite because you get to travel," Stirrat said. She began dancing four years ago after her mother enrolled her into Irish step dancing classes. Her mother's grandfather came over to America from Ireland in the 1920s.
"After I tried it I found out I was good at it. It's really athletic. When you look at the girls on stage it doesn't seem hard but afterward they are hunched over on their knees trying to breath." Though she is excited for this year's competition at World's, she looks forward to next year, where the location of the competition will be in Boston. "I've never been to the east coast!"
McGrory said he feels he has improved the standard of Irish dancing from what was here before. "I improved the quality of young dancers in Tucson. We have actual Irish teachers who even speak to them in Irish so they learn the language and benefit from that."
In Ireland, students are forced to learn English, however many schools are Irish-speaking schools.
"My children speak better Irish then I do," McGrory said.
McGrory has two children who currently live in Ireland with their mother. "I try to visit my family two or three times a year." He said when they are old enough, he hopes they will visit the U.S.
McGrory said gaining success in America and gaining success in Ireland yields two different responses.
"A lot of Irish look up to America and want to come and work here. The perception is if you live in the U.S., you do well and people pat you on the back. In Ireland the people bring you down if you achieve too much success. It's just a mentality."
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