The girls who learn to dance at the Corry Academy of Irish Dance will happily take turns answering questions about their years of taking dance lessons, and their plans for the upcoming competition in Ireland they’re attending. But fairly frequently, someone (the dancer answering the question, or another helping her with the answer, or nearly all of them together) will giggle.
It is not always clear what exactly is so funny, but the amusement is fairly contagious, so after awhile it’s simply funny that they’ve found something funny. Again.
Student Molly Gardner says she’s taken classes for eight years, so that makes her the student who has danced with the academy the longest.
But then Holly, instructor Noreen Corry Northrop’s daughter, qualifies: “Technically, I have known the instructor for the longest.”
The giggling begins to bubble up.
“Technically, you have,” her mother confirms.
Molly explains that, after trying other dance classes, she tried Irish dancing and immediately stayed and “stuck with it.”
“I like the people,” she says. “There’s a big friendship here. The music is fun—you get absorbed into it, really.”
She jokes that they are “abnormal.”
“Abnormal?” Holly questions.
“What’s abnormal?” someone else asks.
Holly Northrop elaborates, saying that people tell her “That’s so cool!” when she tells them she step dances.
And so Molly revises: “It makes us unique.”
Step dancing is the traditional version of Irish dance; it was popularized in the US by the stage show Riverdance, which during the 1990s played on Broadway before touring globally. The traditional versions of the dances are a lickety-split but precise mix of tap dancing and centuries-old folk dancing from Europe. Hints of ballet appear—when the girls point their toes, rise to stand momentarily on their toes, and the synchronized leaps-in-place. But Irish dancers don’t move their arms or bend this way and that, except to link arms while doing a line dance. Speed counts. And while their feet are a marvel of movement, the dancers keep their backs and arms straight as humanly possible.
Noreen Corry Northrop, the dance instructor and founder of the school, opened the school as a way to ease her homesickness after moving with her husband to Andover from England in 1997. She grew up in Glasgow, Scotland (where she began dance study when she was three years old), and then, after moving to England, studied dance in Manchester. Her biography notes that she placed in her age group’s top ten the last time she competed in the World Irish Championships. In May she will take the troupe to Dublin to compete in the Irish Open competition.
For several of them, the trip will be their second to compete in Ireland. This may sound daunting—journeying from Kansas to compete in Irish dance contests in Dublin, but they don’t seem worried. Molly points out that they’ve competed against them before, when they came to the States to compete.
“I think we’re fully ready. Probably. I’m hoping it’s going to be their best year,” their instructor says.
On this morning, the girls have worn their elaborate dresses, with their sashes, embroidered, beaming with color, and a little glamorous. Only the girls at the highest levels will wear these in competition, dancing individual dances the teacher has developed. The girls at the younger levels will dance specific dances, with the same steps their competitors will be required to dance. For these, they have a class uniform, a more sedate hunter green dress with the academy monogram in gold on the back. And most of them have wigs on, giving them bouncy ringlets in the color of their natural hair, as part of the costume.
The wigs, Northrop says, are not required in Cumann Rince Naisiunta (CRN), the dance organization they’re involved in. “But it looks better. It’s an Irish thing. It’s just different, like when they put on the dresses. They can be in jeans and T-shirts and the minute they have wigs on, it’s just a different thing.”