Saturday, January 17, 2009

Irish Dancing With an International Flair

Irish dancing has long been popular in America because many Americans have Irish heritage, but Irish dancing is now being featured during the Chinese New Year celebration in Boston and is catching on with young dancers in places like Mexico, Russia, and China!

No doubt the interest in Irish dancing has been sparked by international performances of Riverdance, which made Irish stepdancing famous all over the world. Watch the dance of the Russian Dervish from the Moscow Folk Ballet Company's performance of Riverdance.

If you watched the Russian Dervish, it is pretty obvious that Russian dancers are blending aspects of Irish dancing with their own dance traditions. American tap dancing, such as this 1938 routine performed by Bill Bojangles Robinson and Shirley Temple, evolved from Irish stepdancing as did this modern dance routine from Duluth, Minnesota based on the 1950s song "Yakity Yak."

We are not surprised to see American kindergarteners performing stepdances in school talent shows, but even young Russian dancers like Sergey Nazarov have taken up Irish dancing. The "Irish" dance champion Albert Verholyak teaches Irish dancing to young Russians and also performs in competitions. Albert, who seems to give his Irish dancing a bit of Cossack flair, is profiled in this clip from the Russian talent show "Minutes of Glory."

According to a regional news article reposted by the Karelian School of Culture, Albert, who began to study dance at this school in 2000, is a native of the town of Segezha (Сегежа) in Russian Karelia [See an earlier post about Karelia], although he seems to have grown up in Petrozavodsk, the capital of Karelia. Perhaps his parents moved to this regional capital after he was born, or perhaps he boarded at his performing arts school. Gifted Russian children and even ordinary Russian children from small communities are often sent to boarding schools. In fact, many children in small Russian communities must attend boarding school to receive an education. They don't take long bus rides like children in rural America because the distances are huge, and the roads and weather are too unpredictable. In bygone years, before the era of good highways and school busses, rural American children who wanted an education also attended boarding schools.

Albert Verholyak [Альберт Верхоляк] began to study dance when he eight years old; and according to the proud teachers at his Karelian performing arts school, he practiced independently every day and was their best student. In 2003, he was awarded a scholarship from the Karelian fund for the Children of Karelia.

According to the article posted by the school, which is titled Graduate of the Karelian School of Culture is the Finalist on 'Minutes of Glory', Albert successfully finished school and then achieved his dream of studying in Moscow when he won a huge competition: out of 120 contestants, only six were chosen. [If you check-out "Minutes of Glory" (Минуты славы) don't miss the almond-eyed Siberian middle-school nightingales from Omsk, the boy accordianist Максим Токаев, the Tatar brothers Arman and Arsin, from the gas and oil city of Tyumen, or Анастасия Сорокова, the teenaged singer of ancient Russian songs.]

The Irish dancer Albert Verholyak won a million rubles in the popular Russian "amateur hour" T.V. program "Minutes of Glory" (See Минуты славы on Youtube) when viewers voted him the winner. This show seems to be the Russian version of American Idol. Albert turned over his prize money to his parents, explaining that "Mamma is my muse" and that "I want my parents to have not only bread, but also rolls with butter." Albert is currently a teacher at the Moscow Studio of Dance and in the future plans to open a jazz class for professionals. This clip begins with American tap dancing until the "Irishman" Albert arrives with his suitcase fresh off a steamship. The announcer explains a bit about "the history of America": that American tap dancing is derived from Irish stepdancing.

Sometimes American tap dancing seems to be viewed with suspicion. In the Russian film "Burnt by the Sun," a vengeful Soviet KGB agent who has been living in the bourgeois West shows off his American-style tapdancing, and the honorable Soviet general subsequently responds with a Russian dance.

These days, Irish dancing schools are popping up like mushrooms all over Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. Here is a video promotion for the first Irish dance school in Petersburg called "Mirkwood."

International Irish dancing competitions are covered by Russian television because young Russians are among the contestants. In this video, young girls from Loktev, Russia perform "Irish dancing" with a Russian twist. Do I hear Russian balailaikas?

In Mexico, young people study Irish dancing at the Bradigan Irish Dance School. Here are the Bradigan students in performance.

In this video Dora (Brazil) and Anna (Russia) practice their Irish dance routine at the Limerick University in Ireland.

Irish dancing is also becoming popular in China. Check out the Beijing Quanjian line dance team. Those Chinese kids look cute line dancing to Zorba the Greek.

More later...

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