Beneath all the smoke and lights of popular stage shows like “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance” lies the precise and fleet-footed drama of Irish step dancing, a traditional folk dance with a history hundreds of years old, that continues to be passed down from generation to generation.

With its lively and intricate music — jigs, hornpipes, reels — and a scrupulously unbending carriage of the torso, Irish dancing is uniquely demanding, requiring both a high level of skill and of concentration to create the right combination of mesmerizing rhythms and graceful movement.

As with many forms of folk dance, step dancing originated as an entertainment for social gatherings — dancers would often perform in barns or pubs, and sometimes dance on unhinged doors to amplify the rhythms of their feet. It was a natural part of local festivals of music, dance and storytelling, which evolved in the late 19th century into a kind of colorful competition known today as the feis.

Scores of feisanna (the plural of feis) can be seen throughout the country every year, and in order to compete, a dancer must train at a school accredited by the organization that sponsors a feis, such as the Irish Dancing Commission. In “Roots,” Spark visits the San Francisco 2003 Feis to follow the progress of young Megan Anderson, a talented and dedicated young dancer from Healy Irish Dance Studio, as she dons her own brightly sequinned costume complete with wig, to keep up a highflying tradition.

Young performers from the Healy Irish Dance Studio, compete in annual San Francisco Feis under the tutelage of Ann Healy, her daughter Patti Ann Ranum and granddaughters Christina and Alisa Ranum. Healy’s grandfather, William J. Healy brought the traditions of Irish dance from his home in Kilcorney, Cork where a local feis has been held annually since 1910, and his son — Ann’s father — William P. Healy founded the still family-run dance studio.

Healy Irish Dance Studio 19 January,2016Spark
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Roots

Exploring ancestral roots with artists who preserve and perpetuate traditional art forms.


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