“Irish Dancers Step Lively in Valentine”
As this week’s five-day, nearly sold-out run of Riverdance here makes clear; Irish step dancing has become very big business. But, long before there was so much money involved, it was already an extremely competitive business. Even in Ohio. Consider the experiences of New York City-based Toledo-native Darrah Carr, who, along with her dance company, will team up with Paddy Noonan and others for “An Irish Evening” at 7:30pm Tuesday at the Valentine Theater. Noonan also will present an Irish Cabaret at 2 pm Tuesday at the Stranahan Theater.
Carr began competing in Toledo area contests when she was just 7. By age 11 she pretty much devoted her summers to the competition circuit. That year she won the regional competition in Chicago. And that, in turn, qualified her to compete in the Irish Dance World Championship Competition held annually in Ireland. There, she placed as a finalist each year through age 16. Those were busy years. In the winters, when she wasn’t polishing her Irish dance routines at the Tim O’Hare School of Irish Dance in Plymouth, Michigan, Carr was spending her time studying classical dance at the Toledo Ballet. She regularly participated in the company’s Nutcracker performances.
At times, trying to master step dancing and ballet simultaneously must have felt like trying to combine oil and water. Ballet requires the use of the entire body, leaping, and lightness of foot. Step dancing, in contrast, employs a rigid upper body and focuses on striking downward onto the floor in a highly rhythmic fashion. To complicate things more, after graduating from Notre Dame Academy in 1992, Carr moved to Connecticut, where she studied modern dance and choreography at Wesleyan University. There, she also wrote an undergraduate thesis on the history of Irish dance.
Why, you may have been wondering, do step dancers hold their upper torsos so rigid? Carr says she had been wondering as well. “I spent a lot of time researching this for my thesis. Why do the legs work so furiously while the upper body is held in check? Some people say it developed that way because the church thought that couples shouldn’t be embracing, that one should keep one’s hands to oneself. Another theory is that it grew out of footwork in the social set-dance styles. Another theory is that dancing was done inside people’s homes and other small spaces where the space was very limited. These social set-dances are not elaborate, but good dancers would want to get up and show off their footwork.”
Today, Carr lives in New York, where she is finishing a Master’s degree at New York University. She teaches at the Niall O’Leary School of Irish Dance and works as an assistant choreographer for the Broadway show James Joyce’s The Dead. Since 1997, she has run her own dance company, Darrah Carr Dance. The company, she says is highly eclectic. “One of my current interests is in combining the movements in Irish step dance with those of modern dance.”
Featured on Tuesday evening will be traditional dances with Niall O’Leary; “Crockpot Stew,” which combines Irish and Appalachian dance tunes, and “Whirl,” a work for seven dancers that Carr describes as Celtic rock music.
Darrah Carr, Paddy Noonan, and others will present “An Irish Evening” at 7:30 pm Tuesday at the Valentine Theater. The concert is sold out. Information: 242-2787.