A little bit of Ireland in Vancouver

Participants at this year’s North American Irish Dance Championship. | Photo courtesy of Deidre Penk O’Donnell

Vancouver has the luck of the Irish! This year Irish dancing is coming! It’s been a long time, and Deirdre Penk O’Donnell says it’s worth the wait.

This is the first time in 22 years that this event has been in Western Canada,” says Penk O’Donnell, chairperson for the 2019 North American Irish Dance Championships, happening from July 1–5 in Vancouver.

“It’s been an enormous job to organize this. It’s just amazing how many details need to be sorted out,” says Penk O’Donnell. “It’s like the Olympics of Irish dancing for me.”

Welcoming the world

The role of chairperson is a volunteer position, Penk O’Donnell says through laughter. She along with her three co-chairs, Linda Possak, Rebecca Bell and Alison Paladini, also volunteers, have been working around the clock to bring this competition to life.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am that I’ve been able to bring this completion here. It’s fabulous for the city; 3,200 families are coming into our city and most of them aren’t Canadian,” she says. “I’m so proud of where we live, and the fact that we get to show Vancouver off to everybody is just amazing.”

Learning through dance

Penk O’Donnell, an Irish dancer herself, started dancing at the age of three and as a teenager, became one of the top five in the world, having won this exact championship at one point.

Now a dance instructor, she has a lot of students participating in this event.

“I knew I always wanted to teach. It’s my passion. I love everything about Irish dance. It’s not just the dance itself; I loved what I learned through it,” says Penk O’Donnell.

She explains how she learned to handle disappointment and success, how to work towards a goal and how to organize her time, all from dancing.

“You learn so many things out of this that really don’t have anything to do with pointing your toes,” she says.

Having a connection

Irish dance has been around as long as there has been Irish people,” says Penk O’Donnell.

A long time ago Irish dance used to be something only people in Ireland did, but now people all over the world take part in this tradition, she continues.

“The Irish moved all over the world and when they did, they brought their music and their dance with them,” she says.

In her opinion, most people got involved with Irish dance, not because they were born in Ireland, but because they had some sort of connection to it.

For her, it was her mother. For others it was the fact that they knew someone who did it or they watched a performance and got inspired to participate.

“[Irish dance has] always been representative of the demographics of Vancouver and Canada. You’re not just going to see little red headed girls doing this; every single culture you can imagine will be present at this competition,” she says.

Diversity in dance

Irish dance is probably one of the most diverse kinds of dance. We’re way beyond the folk dance stage; we’ve been recognized as a fine art for years,” says Penk O’Donnell.

The dance itself is unique because it uses two different kinds of shoes. There are soft shoes for lighter, quieter, dances that allow the audience to really listen to the music and see how the dancers are interpreting it.

Penk O’Donnell explains that the softer shoes also allow dancers to focus on showing their points and lifts.

The second type of shoe used in Irish dance is a harder type of shoe that sounds similar to tap shoes.

“With hard shoes we are interpreting the music with our feet, we’re making rhythm with our feet,” she adds.

Taking notice

There will be boys and girls doing solo dances, traditional ceili dancing and there will be dance drama competitions where dancers interpret a story and use all kinds of props.

“These kids are athletes. They train no differently than any athlete wanting to achieve a goal,” says Penk O’Donnell.

She feels that Vancouverites will be taken aback during the championship days.

“Thousands of dancers will be walking around in beautiful costumes in Vancouver. It’s definitely going to be something that people are going to notice,” she says.

For more information, please visit: www.naidc.wcidta.ca