Irish Dance Classes

Irish Dance Classes

The What and Why of Irish Dance - Told by Parents With Decades of Experience (and well earned too)

At the age of 7 my daughter Devon insisted she wanted to start Irish Dance. No ballet, no soccer, no hip hop or Polynesian dance, just Irish Dance. I researched the options and found Claddagh literally at my backdoor. Well, maybe up the road, but nevertheless very close. Little did I know how meeting Maire and joining Claddagh Dance would change our lives utterly and completely.

Dancing at Claddagh taught my daughter discipline, organization, good sportsmanship, the ability to win and lose gracefully and the value of teamwork. Claddagh brought me closer to my Irish heritage, as well as providing marvelous opportunities to travel. We created wonderful memories and established friendships that are cherished and maintained to this day. I remember well the days of curling hair the night before a competition and waking early the next day to take those many many curlers out in order to be on time for the first morning competitions. Yes, there was a time when no one wore wigs!

I co-chaired the Claddagh feis for 10 years with my friend Kim. This was all at once time consuming, hair raising, exhilarating and an event we looked forward to every year. Back in the “old days” the Casa Sirena venue and all of the challenges and fun that an outdoor summer feis by the beach brought will never be forgotten. Parking nightmares, damp chairs in the mornings, sunscreen and easy ups for the overseas adjudicators, the chaos of getting results out for 900+ competitors and the excitement of awards at the end of the day. There are so many incredible memories from those early days. Irish Dance venues have changed a bit, but the excitement and fun of competition days will always remain.

Traveling to the major competitions like Oireachtas, Nationals, All Irelands and Worlds allowed us to see places we likely would never have ventured to without our involvement in Irish dance. Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, Nashville, Killarney, Belfast, Glasgow, Ennis, Dublin are only a few of the places visited during our years at Claddagh. My world view broadened and I am surely all the better for those experiences.

Beyond all of those positives Irish Dance was also responsible for introducing my daughter to her husband. It’s a delightful love story and one in which Maire was instrumental in their finally meeting. Devon obtained her TCRG in 2017. She moved to England and obtained a Masters in Economics. She married David in 2018 and they recently had a son. As you might imagine there are already family discussions about when and where he’ll start Irish Dance.

Thank you Maire and Claddagh for all of the many wonderful experiences and indelible memories throughout the years!


Claddagh School of Irish Dance and what it means to me and my family

Claddagh, a word I had never heard before. Carol, my wife, tells me after work that she wants to enroll our daughter, Nicola, into an Irish dancing school. My mind goes back to when I was probably 14 or 15 years old. I knew of Irish dancing, I had seen it on television once in the 1960s. I remember that I was taken by it, it was unique, unusual, different, and fascinating. It had impressed me, yet I really knew little of it. We decided she would start classes. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for Nicola and ourselves. Maire O’Connell began instructing Nicola in disciplined footwork of amazing speed and accuracy. She taught her poise and professionalism. She taught her stage presence, she taught her how to win, how to lose with pride. Nicola learned about another culture, she learned teamwork, she learned sharing with others, comradery. Nicola learned life lessons that many people would take 30 years or more to learn. Nicola learned how to dance, challenging herself to improve, to beat her own score, to train and endure pain, to be patient.

Claddagh became the name of the top sports team in our vocabulary. Claddagh competed on a local basis with Irish dancing schools all over California, and then with teams from the Western United States. Nicola grew in her skills and abilities, continually getting better. She was also getting better in school and life. She gained friends, friends outside of her school friends, neighborhood friends, and church friends. The were children from the larger Ventura County area, and even some outside of the County who attended the school. She began to gain friends from the other schools as she met them, and would compete against them at the many competitions she would be a part of. Nicola’s sister, Erin, began to dance with Claddagh. Erin and Maire were both intense people, Erin grew in ways that Nicola hadn’t experienced. Erin had to overcome her own will, and submit to the instructions and discipline required of this unique art form. The footwork and the combinations of which are countless, and forever changing and challenging. Levels upon levels of varying footwork combinations that were visually impossible to see because of the lightning speed with which the moves were executed. Combinations which the students ran through their brain as they performed, a mind-boggling act of excellence in mind-body coordination. I couldn’t remember the three-number combination of the lock on my school locker. The young people were able to memorize and execute combinations that are minutes long. Both girls grew to love Maire and appreciate what Claddagh had given them.

Our family learned discipline. Mom and dad learned to be on time to get our kids to the classes on time, because the need for our children’s training and teamwork pushed us too. We curled hair, yes, mom and dad. We worked on the costumes, and We helped hold our local competitions with the setup and hosting of Claddagh School’s own competition. One of these I had the privilege to head, had over 1,100 competitors, from all over the world, and their families and friends. We gained the friendship of the other parents, forming many lifelong friendships.

The costumes were beautiful pieces of art which brought forth ancient Celtic designs that are national treasures of Ireland. They were colorful and unique, becoming the identity of the performer at competitions. We purchased two beautiful dresses direct from Ireland, which made the girls feel like Irish princesses.

Eventually our dancers would be needed to compete at the Western regional competition. Each year these would take us to major cities of the Western U.S. and Canada, like San Diego, Phoenix, Vancouver, San Francisco, Tucson, and Los Angeles. These larger events stepped up the intensity and challenge for the students, as they had competition now that had also stepped up to a higher level of intensity. We met a larger ring of people to make friends with, from this extended/larger competition from other states and provinces. Then came the National competition, where the East meets the west in even larger venues, with more people, and more intense competition. I began to look forward to the larger competitions, as we extended them as vacations that we never would have taken if it hadn’t been for joining the Claddagh family. We were lucky enough to visit Boston, Chicago, Toronto, and Vancouver. The historical sites around the country and the food, and the fun that we experienced were icing on the cake of the Irish dancing time with Claddagh.

Nicola went on to perform at the World Championships, twice, adding to her life experience of world travel at the young age of 14 years. Two years later, she was able to extend to England and Scotland, at the age of 16.

Our daughters rose to become Class President, and ASB President at their high school. Their math abilities excelled because of the mental work oof the music and dance. Their social skills make them well-rounded people that would make any parent proud.

It is immeasurable, the value of what Claddagh School of Irish Dancing brought to our family. Maire O’Connell made a name for herself, her school, and put Ventura on the world stage. If we had it all to do over again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monty C. Ives