Kevin Roe, General Manager of Celtic Cultural Center, 430 New Karner Road, Colonie, New York, gave us a wide ranging interview on March 4, 2011. In this third in a series, Keven discusses instrument lessons and dance:
Q: What about musical instruments outside of bands?
A: In addition to the piping and drumming on the music side, we have always offered a wide variety of Irish instrumental lessons: flute, fiddle, bodhran. In the two year layoff that we had between properties, those teachers have found opportunities elsewhere. We hope to have them back and teaching by the fall. We hope to be offering those lessons again at some level. At certain times, we had 20 to 30 students taking Irish music lessons here. Currently, it's a one off type of thing. A couple of teachers come in from Boston or New York and they use this space to teach. They schedule their lessons throughout a day, then go back. When they need space again, they come back. But that's not a regular program right now.
Q: And dance?
A: On the dance side, we have the Braemar Highland Dancers that is also a multi-generational dance school that's older than you or I. There are women older than me who come up and tell me I was a Braemar dancer. But literally, it's true. It's been around 70 years. There are three instructors and they are all under 30 years old.
Yes, we were Scottish bagpiping and Irish dancing to start, but one of the first programs we had was Scottish dance. The Scottish dance students, their parents and their grandparents have been instrumental in keeping us going because they've hung in through thick and thin. If I need something, I know I can rely on them.
That school has 20 to 30 dancers. They just brought in a new class of 5 and 6 year olds and they included nine young women. They teach kids from 5 to 18. There is a progression through, so as they get older, they learn more, they dance at higher levels.
The same with Irish dance, which very recently we were able to obtain a certified Irish Step Dance teacher for here at the Hall named Lex Hickey. We've taught dance for eight years with teachers who were like grad students, who weren't quite certified yet. They either went on to other things or when they became certified, they decided this wasn't where they were going to teach. So this new teacher is young and certified. She is already teaching here, as she took over the existing students.
The Irish Step Dance is what you see on River Dance. This is the main activity for Irish-American young women. There are certainly some very talented boys and young men who do it, but approximately 85 percent of the participants have thus far been young women. In September with the beginning of a new year of classes, the couple will take over all of the Irish dance instruction at the Hall. We are very pleased that has occurred and are really optimistic about where that is going. We have kindergartners and first graders coming every week.
Irish Dance became very popular when River Dance came out. We had to put caps on competition numbers. It's been on the decline, over the past 5 years or more, but it has plateaued by number of participants. I know that because I work with the Feis Commission. A Feis is a dance competition. The Feis Commision knows the numbers of participants and tracks the numbers from year to year. The participants have not declined over the last two years.
Besides the young ones learning their first few steps, we have a number of college age young women who are returning. They gave up competition when they were in late high school. Now that they are back from college, visiting home from college, or going to college here, and they are doing Irish dance for fun, exercise, and social aspects.
The other program, that I know is dear to your heart, is the Irish language program. We had twenty or more beginner and intermediate students in Irish language programs. There are a couple of teachers around. Bairbre McCarthy lives north of Saratoga Spa and has a career over and aside being an Irish language teacher. She is a writer, and an Irish story teller in performance, besides her full time career as a public school teacher. She's welcome to teach here any time. We are looking for someone to lead at least a beginner or introductory course this fall, which is when we are planning to gear up the full panoply of courses here in the fall.
Q: What about the Scottish dance school and eventually the Irish dance school: where and when can people see their performances?
A: The Irish dance school is currently doing performances. Our existing students are great at dancing before the public. They have what is called a “dance out” which is a performance that is not competition. They are having a dance out tonight (the evening of the interview).
For the next portion where Kevin discusses concerts, exhibits, and bingo at the Hall, click here after this link goes live in a couple of days!