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St. Paddy’s Article: Let’s Dance

Irish Dancer Ginny and nephew Andy
The short and the tall of it: Irish Dancer Ginny and nephew Andy

For Neighbors
By Jeanna M. Olson

THE AIR is thick with spring, buds are budding, and sprouts are sprouting. It’s the time of year that makes you want to kick up your heels and dance. Irish dance.

For young sprouts, there are two quality schools in the Madison area, the Cashel Dennehy School of Irish Dance and Trinity Academy of Irish Dance.

Trinity alone has over 100 young students taking lessons out of their studio in Verona, and teaches kids as young as four-years-old about Irish culture along with the basic components of Irish dance. One of their Madison dancers, 11-year-old Kole Binger, won a gold medal at the World Championships in Belfast last March.

“The River class, they’re four and five, and they learn some Irish jig steps, they learn some movement from Irish reels,” says Mark Howard, who founded Trinity at age 17. “We actually have little mats that have footprints with full color where you follow the feet like Twister.”

Lessons at Cashel Dennehy can start at age five, where they also build on dance skills through a progression of classes and a solid foundation.

“The kids that start, the first dance they learn is the beginner jig.

And all jig stuff is based upon that initial dance,” says Michelle Thompson, Cashel Dennehy parent volunteer. “There are some kids that are just going into kindergarten and there are kids upwards of sixth or seventh grade. So you can pick it up at any point.”

There aren’t many programs for adults, and gone are the days when the Dempseys kicked up their heels with Ginny O’Brien and the Shamrock Club. But there has been a growing interest in all things Irish. Howard thinks the “Celtic Tiger” started with the Irish tax reforms of the eighties when artists were no longer taxed. There have been regular Celtic jam sessions in town since the eighties come to think of it.

“There’s been a Wednesday Night Irish music session in Madison for at least 30 years,” says Karen Fischer, local musician.

Irish set dancing, on the other hand, has been described as “currently in transition” by the folks at

Dance Fabulous, home of the only regular drop-in Irish dance class, describes the four types of Irish dance as: modern step dance (Riverdance), old style step (clogging), ceili (group dances), and set, (square dancing).

“All the classes that I teach are for beginners,” says Dance Fabulous and UW Continuing Studies teacher Heidi Hakseth. “We don’t expect any prior knowledge, any prior dance experience of any kind.”

You don’t have to be a gold medalist to Irish dance—it’s for all body types and skill levels. And sprout or perennial, Irish dancing isn’t just for the Irish.

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