Irish step dancing comes to Park City |

Irish step dancing comes to Park City

Amy Stanfield may appear to be a normal college senior at the University of Utah. Don’t be fooled.

The 21-year-old anthropology major has a secret weapon: her feet. She smiles from behind big curly wigs, rhinestone dresses and beauty-queen sashes as she romps her way to victory.

Stanfield started Irish dancing in Connecticut after seeing the Broadway smash hit "Riverdance" at the age of 8. Today, she is a student-teacher at the Claddagh Irish Dance school in Salt Lake City and the instructor for the Irish dance workshops being held at Dance Tech Studios in Park City Oct. 3, 10 and 24.

Anyone who doubts the claim that Irish dancing is a different sort of extra-curricular activity needs only listen to some of the Celtic language tossed about the stage. In what other activity would American teenagers refer to ceilis, social, dances, horn pipes and treble reels? An Irish step-dancing competition is called a feis and the annual regional competitions are called an oireachtas.

In addition to colorful disguises, add international travel to Stanfield’s secret-agent credentials. A national and regional Irish dance champion, Stanfield has competed in Ireland, England, Scotland, Canada, New York, Los Angeles and San Diego.

The funny thing about Irish dancing, Stanfield says, is "it’s a secret underground society that involves hundreds of thousands of people all over the world."

Stanfield want to become a certified Irish dance instructor, but first she’ll have to go before an international governing board called the T.C.R.G., which stands for Teasgicoir Choimisiuin Le Rinci Gaelacha, or Irish Dance Commission Teacher.

Certification requires a four-day intensive evaluation in Irish dance and is held just once a year in the Western U.S. Stanfield plans to travel to the as-yet-unannounced regional location in January to be officially recognized as an instructor, although she already helps teach about 70 kids ages 8-14 at the studio.

You don’t have to be Irish to be an Irish dancer, says Stanfield, whose ancestors hail from a mix of European countries. "Everyone is a little bit Irish," she laughed.

Irish dancing does, however, give participants an inroad into exploring the Irish culture. "The best thing about Irish dancing is the tie to Ireland whether you’re Irish or not," she said. "We don’t ever talk about being Swedish or German, Dutch or English [in my family]. We talk about being Irish."

One of Stanfield’s students, a young girl, is half German and half Peruvian. "She says she’s Irish," Stanfield said.

Riverdance Babyboomers

Stanfield classifies herself as a "Riverdance Babyboomer" because she was among thousands of teenagers and 20-somethings who were exposed to the art of Irish dancing by the popular show.

Abby Jenkins, 15, a sophomore at Park City High School, also fits the "Babyboomer" description. She saw "Riverdance" on television when she was seven years old and started learning Irish dance when she was 11. She says it’s important to note that "Riverdance" is just one iteration of a popular and expansive form that includes soft and hard-shoe dances, reels, light jigs, foot jigs and single jigs.

To say that "Riverdance" is a fair representation of all Irish dance would be like saying the Rolling Stones were all there was to rock ‘n’ roll music, enthusiasts say. Keith Richards is a fine example of a rock star, but not everything.

Jenkins, who fits five hours of dancing per week into a busy schedule of school and homework, says Irish dancing makes a great cardiovascular workout. "It’s a way of exercise," she says. "But it’s a fun way."

Abby has competed in regional and national competitions in soft and hard-shoe dances, but she rarely stops jigging when the competition is done. Abby’s mom, Mary Ann Jenkins, remarked that her daughter often dances through the house. "It’s as much fun to watch as it is to dance," she said. "Her feet can just fly."

Irish dancing may have become cool in the days since the film "Billy Elliott" and Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer-prize winner memoir "Angela’s Ashes," but it wasn’t cool when Maureen Amendola, a chemistry teacher at Park City High School, did it.

Amendola wore kilts and capes, never wigs and stage dresses, as she and her sisters competed in regional and national competitions. "Kids are intrigued by it now," she said. "It was just so different. It’s more showy. When we did it, it was very traditional."

Amendola, who grew up in Denver with Irish grandparents, is humble about her days as a dancer, but she admitted that Irish dance helped her keep in touch with her heritage. She remembers, long before "Riverdance," when her grandpa would play music and she and her sisters would get to stepping.

For info on Irish dance workshops call Mary Ann Jenkins at 435-658-4582 or write to . The workshops will be held at Dance Tech Studios. Ages 5-10 dance from 3-4 p.m. and 11 and up dance from 4-5 p.m. The workshops start Friday, Oct. 3. Classes are $10 each or $25 for all three.

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