I recently spoke to Joe Duffey of District Irish Dance Academy about Washington D.C.’s first resident Irish dance school and the positive effects Irish dancing is having on the community.
- What was it that first drew you to Irish dancing?
“Riverdance,” in one word. I saw “Riverdance” on video, particularly Michael Flatly, performing in the 1996 version of the show. I was 6 years old and I thought, “I have to do this.” I had tried other types of dance; ballet and tap when I was really young. My parents got me into Irish dancing classes when I was 6 and I was pretty much hooked from the start.
- What advice would you give to aspiring young Irish dancers?
I would say just keep working hard, have fun and more than anything make sure you’re enjoying it and having great experiences in every dance class you attend. Always remember the reason why you’re an Irish dancer, why you’re doing this: because of your love for the art form, that’s why anyone does it. It’s infectious. The music and the steps themselves are just … magical. It’s such a satisfying art form to be a part of. Just having fun with it is the most important thing to remember.
- What can Irish dancing teach children about the “real” world?
Any good dance class should teach things to kids related to hard work, adopting a growth mentality and a positive perspective on developing a skill. That’s something I try to make sure all of my kids understand: it takes patience, it takes time, but the result is such a great thing to aspire to. It’s more about the journey than it is [about] any individual result you have, whether that be in a performance capacity or competitive setting. In the end, what you’re left with is that journey. So more than anything, enjoy the journey.
- What do you believe makes District Irish Dance Academy unique?
We’re very new and I’m fresh off of touring the world with various Irish dance shows including “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance,” so that’s something that I try to bring – my unique perspective. The other certified Irish dance teacher here, Bernadette Devereaux, she brings her perspective also; we both toured together in “Lord of the Dance.” So we try to bring that into the classroom directly. That’s something we stand apart on from other schools, having had that Broadway, global touring experience with a Grammy award-winning Irish dance show. We’ve seen this world of professional dancing and we want to give dancers a taste of that in our classes.
We’re the first certified Irish dancing school to be fully based and operated within the District. I try to make sure that the identity of Washington, D.C. is uniquely represented in all of our classes. For Irish dancing especially, it appeals to a wide range of students, ages and levels; anyone can do Irish dancing. There is a multi-generational interest in Irish dancing and I think that’s something special we can offer to the community.
- Do you think that Irish dancing is particular to multi-generational interest?
I would say so because of things such as Irish salsa dancing and ceili dance, [in] which historically in Ireland, everyone would get up and participate. It’s all about getting together, friendship and community. That’s the core of Ireland and we try to give that back to the District. I’m really proud to be able to do that.
- Is Irish Dance an activity you’d recommend parents to participate in with their kids?
Absolutely. In fact, I highly encourage that. I try to offer classes that are multi-aged, including a class I just launched called Celtic fit which uses Irish dance-inspired fitness moves – think the Zumba of Irish dancing. The first half of the class is really basic steps, you don’t need any experience whatsoever, and the second half of class is learning a traditional Irish ceili. I thought this would be a great way to bring in people of all different ages and levels who’ve never done Irish dancing before and might be interested in it. So Celtic fit, in particular, encourages parents to attend with their kids, to get together with everyone and have fun with each other.
- Finally, what is one fun fact about Irish Dance that most people don’t know?
Unique to Irish dance, [there are] two different kinds of dance shoes that are used and that results in two very different forms within Irish dancing: hard shoe and soft shoe. So it’s not just what people think of it as being similar to tap dancing, that loud percussive sound. It can be more graceful with a resemblance to ballet [because of] the soft shoe. With soft shoes, there are no tips or heels on your shoes and [the dancing] is more about the jumps and leaps.
If you would like to see members of the academy perform, come see their St. Patrick’s Day performance at Union Market on Saturday, March 16th.
District Irish Dance Academy is currently enrolling students throughout 2019 and is offering beginner classes for ages 5 and up. For any prospective new students, the first class is free. For more information, please visit districtirishdance.com. districtirishdance.com.