By Joanne Greco Rochman
Ever since Michael Flatley’s “Riverdance” took the world by storm with his passionate Irish dance, anyone with Irish heritage or even those who only wish they had some Irish in them seek Irish Step Dancers when March 17 rolls around.
It’s true. On St. Patrick’s Day all over Connecticut Irish dancers will be tapping their toes and clicking their heels in the traditional Irish Dance, which many New Englanders know as Irish Step Dancing. Terry Gillan who has been teaching Irish dance for 35 years has a new studio in Bethel, CT and already has more than 100 students. Bethel and adjacent Danbury have a large Irish population, so Gillan and his partner Philip Owens chose the perfect place for their studio, Gilleoghan Irish Dance. Gillan knows that as soon as “March” shows up on the calendar, his phone will start ringing non-stop with people seeking Irish dancers to entertain on St. Patrick’s Day. “That’s for sure,” he says with a thick Irish accent.
“Bethel is such a quaint village and there are many residents here with Irish ancestors, although students come from all over CT and New York to study here,” said Gillan pointing out that many students come from New Milford, Shelton, Newtown, Brookfield, and New York. Yes, Michael Flatley made the Irish Dance a phenomenon more than 15 years ago, but there’s no stopping the tide of fans who can’t get enough of the high spirited dance. If they can’t do the dance themselves, then they’ll go out of their way to see the ones who can perform.
“We start booking a year ahead of time,” said Gillan, the master teacher. “As soon as people invite our dancers, they sign them up for the next year, too. Of course our students perform for area nursing homes and hospitals.”
How did it all come about? “It’s the music,” replied Gillan without any hesitation. “The dance came out of the music. It’s such lively, exciting, and upbeat music that you just want to kick up your heels. However, the pageantry is only 10 percent of what we do.”
He’s not kidding. These dancers learn about all things Irish including music, language, and culture. In order for students to become proficient dancers they need to practice at least two hours a day – and that’s not including classes held inside the studio. There are also competitions for this specialized dance and Gillan’s and Owen’s students not only competed but won the 2011 North American Championships held in Nashville, TN
Interested parties can reach the Gilleoghan Irish Dance studio in Bethel at:
Gilleoghan Irish Dance
170 Greenwood Avenue
Bethel, CT 06801
Joanne Greco Rochman is the arts editor of “The Fairfield County Review,” a columnist, critic, feature story writer and English professor. Her work has appeared in “The New York Times,” “The Republican-American” and Hersam-Acorn Publications. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org