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Stepping to the Top:The World of Competitive Irish Dancing

Margaret Darlington, a member of the Claddagh Dance Company, in Ventura, CA takes the stage this April at the World Irish Dancing Championships in Dublin, Ireland, ,

Irish step-dancing as we know it has existed since the 1700s. Back then, families in Ireland would pass down folk dances from generation to generation as a way of preserving their culture. In the past century, however, Irish dance has developed an ultra-competitive aspect. Here’s a brief look inside the world of competitive Irish dancing and reaching the top.


Irish step-dancers start training as early as age 3. They begin by working on the genre’s rigid posture and learning steps for standard Irish dance styles such as the reel, the light jig, the slip jig, the heavy jig and the hornpipe.

There is no codified vocabulary for Irish dance. Though words like “plié” and “tendu” are universally recognizable to ballet dancers, Irish dance schools come up with their own phrases to describe the moves. What might be called a “treble” at one school could be called a “shuffle” at another.

Though recreational Irish-step dancers may only take class for one or two hours a couple of times each week, competitive Irish dancers often take more classes and practice on their own. Maggie Doyle, a 17-year-old dancer with Trinity Academy of Irish dance in Chicago, IL, won fourth place at Worlds in 2010. She generally takes five hours of classes a week, and in the weeks leading up to competition she adds two extra classes to her schedule and practices at home daily.

Some teachers also encourage their competitive students to cross-train by taking classes in other dance forms. For example, at Griffith Academy, in Wethersfield, CT (a school that has trained many world champions and even some of the pros in Riverdance), competitive dancers are required to take ballet classes. “Ballet helps Irish dancers with their flexibility and centering,” says Mary Beth Griffith, a teacher at the academy. Irish dancers keep their arms at their sides while they dance, so a strong core is especially crucial for balance, Griffith says.

Going for Gold

Irish dance students begin their competitive careers by entering a local Irish dance competition called a “feis” (pronounced FESH)—a Gaelic word for an arts and culture festival. These competitions are like big fairs with music, food and goods for sale. Competitors perform simultaneously on several makeshift stages throughout the feis.

Dancers are divided by age and skill level and over the course of a competition, they perform in each of the five Irish styles, either dancing in groups or as soloists. Students must compete for at least a year in their age category and must be awarded first place in each type of dance to advance to the next level.

Live music accompanies the feis performances. Each dance is performed to a different type of music. Trained Irish dancers recognize the appropriate beat for each style in the same way ballroom dancers know whether they should do a tango or a Viennese waltz based on the music that’s playing. Irish dancers prepare choreography for each style. When they step onstage, they know which style they’ll be dancing, but they don’t know which song they’ll be dancing to until the musicians start to play.

Making It to the Top

It takes years to rise through the competitive Irish dancing ranks. To qualify for the World Irish Dancing Championships—the event all serious competitive dancers hope to win—dancers must have received first-place medals in five levels of competition at feiseanna (the plural of feis).

At the World Championships, the atmosphere is much more intense than at a local feis: Everyone spends most of their time indoors performing, waiting for their scores or cheering on their friends. “You can feel the excitement the moment you enter the doors. The competitors are there to win or achieve their personal best, so there’s a lot of emotion and tense moments,” says Deidre Gillette, another Trinity Academy dancer and an eight-year Worlds’ veteran. “There are thousands of competitors at Worlds, and you’re dancing for a huge audience and being judged at the same time. It’s not for those with weak nerves, that’s for sure!”

Beyond Competition

So what’s an Irish dancer to do after snagging first place at the World Championships? Some continue on the competition circuit to defend their titles, though most stop competing before they turn 30. Others turn to teaching, and a lucky few go pro by joining an Irish dance show like Lord of the Dance, Riverdance or Rhythm of Dance. As a rite of passage, each championship dancer wears a unique, hand-made dress. Caitlin Golding, a dancer with Broesler School of Irish Dance in Maryland, had her championship dress custom-made in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Some Irish Dancing Videos

Norfolk’s 15-year-old Melissa McCarthy, winner of the 2013 Irish World Championships

André Rieu & Florian Silbereisen - Riverdance - Lord of the Dance and Irish Washerwoman

Riverdance World Record Longest Line 21st July 2013 - Lead by Jean Butler and Padraic Moyles and over 115 Riverdance dancers in costume, the Riverdance line stretched for 1km along the north and south banks of the river Liffey, Dublin. The dancers were watched by an audience of thousands cheering them on as they danced for 5 continuous minutes in an unbroken line into the record books.

a 1000 of the dancers mastered the Riverdance step and these fantastic dancers danced Riverdance for 5 continuous minutes with the professional Riverdance dancers then after a short rest they joined the other dancers to dance for another 5 minutes to break the world record.

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Cyd Charisse: Bringing Balletic Style and Class to Musicals


When most people think of Hollywood’s greatest dancers, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly are the two names that come to mind. On March 8, 1922, an actress with beauty, charm and balletic grace was born who held her own with both gentlemen - Cyd Charisse.

3Cyd was born Tula Ellice Finklea on March 8, 1922 (or 1921), in Amarillo, Texas. She had suffered polio as a child but overcame her frailty with the help of dance lessons from the age of eight. She was nicknamed “Sid” when her brother had trouble pronouncing “sister.”  and later Sid became Cyd. At 15 she joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. When WWII caused the break up of the company,

Charisse returned to Los Angeles where she joined the MGM film studio as a ballet dancer. In 1939, she eloped with one of her dance teachers, Nico Charisse. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1947, and the following year Charisse married Alice Faye’s former husband Tony Martin, a marriage that lasted until Cyd’s death in July, 2008..

Her first breakthrough role was 1952’s Singin’ In The Rain. The Broadway Melody Ballet shows off her ability to do things with her body we cannot define in a technical language; she is, as Fred Astaire once put it, “beautiful dynamite”. In the dream ballet she commands Gene Kelly with a 25-foot Chinese silk scarf that wafts over an ultra violet landscape at the provocation of an unseen wind machine.

Her popularity reached its apex in 1953 when she appeared on the cover of Life magazine for an article titled ‘A spectrum of stars’. In The Band Wagon she played ballerina Gabrielle Gerard opposite Fred Astaire. The choreography combines Astaire’s fast, rhythmic dancing with Charisse’s lyrical ballet to create scenes of true romance. By night they test out their off-stage chemistry in Central Park before being conveyed back to reality in a horse-drawn-carriage. The Girl Hunt Ballet is one of the most memorable finales in musical history and its influence can be seen in the setting of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal and Billie Jean film clips.

Charisse also danced opposite Gene Kelly in Brigadoon (1954) and It’s Always Fair Weather (1955); and opposite Fred Astaire in Rouben Mamoulian’s Silk Stockings (1957), a Ninotchka remake with Charisse in Greta Garbo’s original role of the Soviet envoy.

In Meet Me In Las Vegas (1956), Charisse dances to Tchaikovsky in an impromptu volleyball ballet, before the ball hits her in the head and she has to be carried off court by a charming knight in white satin, who kindly aids the recovery process by joining her in a poolside pas de deux.

And her title role in Nicholas Ray’s Party Girl (1958) lends itself to jazzy, sinuous dances that are jaw dropping, even by today’s standards.

Both her stardom and her MGM contract ended at that time. Apart from sporadic film appearances in the 1960s — e.g., Five Golden Hours (1961), playing a baroness; Vincente Minnelli’s Two Weeks in Another Town (1962); the Matt Helm flick The Silencers (1967), starring Dean Martin — Charisse’s show-business career was reduced to cabaret shows with Tony Martin.

In the following decades, she had guest spots in a number of TV series, including Hawaii Five-0, The Fall Guy, Frasier, and, inevitably, The Love Boat and Murder She Wrote. She also performed onstage, in Charlie’s Girls in London in the 1980s and in 1992 when she made her Broadway debut in the musical version of Grand Hotel as the ballerina Elizaveta Grushinskaya.

Dancing in the Dark with Fred Astaire - The Bandwagon, 1953

Broadway Melody production number with Gene Kelly - Singin’ in the Rain, 1952,

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Deanna McBrearty, NYCB

(via theballetblog)

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Real Ballerinas Joined With Degas

These photos of Parisian ballerinas in 1949 by Walter Sanders were posed with Degas paintings. Claude Bessy, on the right in the first images originally joined the Paris Opera Ballet when she was 13–the youngest dancer ever admitted at the time. She went on to be the director of the Paris Opera Ballet School from 1972–2004. 
Bessy was featured in Gene Kelly's film Invitation to the Dance (1956), and four years later he created Pas de dieux at the Paris Opera for her. She also made many television appearances. Bessy has staged ballets for the Comédie Française and Opéra Comique, dances for the musical My Fair Lady (1984) 





PHOTO CREDITS: All photos by Walter Sanders in 1949. 1. Claude Bessy and Denise Bourgeois. 2. Claude Bessy. 3. Marina Baydarova and Tania Baydarova. 4. Claude Bessy and Denise Bourgeois.

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Amazing illustrations by Shanghai, China based artist Zhang Weber.

(via 9ri)

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Meryl Davis and Charlie White performing an exquisite free dance to Scheherazade and receiving the highest score under the new point system to claim a 6th US Championship.  


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Saluting Marc Platt, 100 Yr. Old Original Ballet Russe Dancer

He was born Marcel LePlat in Pasadena, California on December 2, 1913, but was raised in Seattle, Washington. His training as a dancer began at age 11 at the local dance studio of Mary Ann Wells. In his early 20s, he auditioned and was selected for the chorus of the newly formed Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo by the company’s famed choreographer, Léonide Massine (The Red Shoes). His last name was changed to “Platoff” because so many of the group’s dancers (as well as the company’s roots) were Russian. Working his way up to become a soloist who premiered several roles as well as choreographing his own works, he remained with the the companyfor six years. His (uncredited) film debut came with the Jean Negulesco-directed short, The Gay Parisian(1941), a showcase for the Ballet Russe.

He left the troupe in 1942 and, as Marc Platt, alternated between the New York stage and the Hollywood soundstage for many years. On Broadway, he was part of the original 1943 cast of the Rogers & Hammerstein classic, Oklahoma!, creating the role of “Dream Curly.”


Marc Platt and Katharine Sergava in the original Broadway production of Oklahoma!

Tonight and Every Night (1945), starring Rita Hayworth

In 1945, he co-starred with Rita Hayworth and Janet Blair in the Technicolor musical,Tonight and Every Night, but the film role for which he is best known came nine years later with Stanley Donen’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). Platt portrayed the fourth of the brawny “seven brothers,” Daniel Pontipee.
A year later, in 1955, he would appear in a speaking and dancing role in Fred Zinnemann’s film adaptation of Oklahoma! starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae.

Marc Platt would enjoy a multifaceted career. He acted on series TV from the 1950s into the early 1990s, served as dance director for Radio City Music Hall and went on to open his own dance studio in Florida, with his wife, dancer Jane Goodall.


At 91, Platt appeared as himself in the enchanting 2005 documentary, Ballets Russes, a film that traces the beginnings of the original Ballets Russes under Serge Diaghelev through its transformation, following Diaghelev’s death in 1929, into the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo under Léonide Massine. Many of the company’s dancers - in their 70s, 80s and 90s in 2005 - including Platt, areinterviewed, and performance footage illustrates the company’s history.

As of this writing, Mr. Platt will have at least one more credit coming his way. He is set to appear in a documentary now in post-production, Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age, a sequel to Broadway: The Golden Age (2003).


Marc Platt at the party celebrating his 100th birthday in Mill Valley, California, on December 8 (photo by Sarah Rice)

Here’s a glimpse of Marc’s versatile talent in Tonight and Every Night

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Classic Hollywood Celebrating New Year’s Eve

Silent star Barbara Kent marks the time as she ushers in the New Year, 1920's.

Silent star Barbara Kent (b. Barbara Cloutman) marks the time as she ushers in the New Year, 1920′s.

Yes, that's Bette Davis making believe she's happy about posing for a New year studio shot, 1930s.

Bette Davis (b. Ruth Elizabeth Davis) posing for a New Year studio shot, 1930s.

Myrna Loy and Shirley Temple usher in 1937.

Myrna Loy (b. Myrna Adele Williams) and Shirley Temple bring in 1937.

The lovely if little known Sari Maritza counts the seconds until New year, 1930s.

The lovely if little known Sari Maritza (b. Dora Patricia Detring-Nathan) marks a New Year, 1930s.

Rita Hayworth bids adieu to 1940.

Rita Hayworth (b. Margarita Carmen Cansino) bids adieu to 1940.

Debbie Reynolds toots the horn for the New Year, 1953.

Debbie Reynolds (b. Mary Frances Reynolds) toots the horn for 1953.

And of course Marilyn Monroe hope you have a happier New Years than she ever had.

Marilyn Monroe (b. Norma Jean Mortenson) sends New Year’s greetings to the Marines.

Betty Hutton and her giant bells
Hazel Sofinger wishing everyone a Happy 1933
Jane Greer dialing us in to the New Year in a very stylish way
Olivia de Havilland skiing her way into 1937
Shirley Ann Field 
Mack Sennett child star Mary Ann. 
Happy New Year from Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale in the movie Holiday Inn
Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo New Year’s Eve party, 1920’s. Photo by Sam Hood

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Great clips of classic actors and actresses with Judy Garland’s singing. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” fromMeet Me in St Louis, 1944.