Irish dance in Slovenia

Interview with Joan McIntyre - founder of the Irish Dance School in Slovenia

I first met Joan on a social dance night in Ljubljana. We started the conversation by accident, and then her story and her energy gave me such an interest that we chatted all night.
Joan comes from Ireland, came to Slovenia in the early 1990s and in 2004 founded the Irish Dance School, which was initially meant only for children, but soon became an adult school. Joan had no idea at the time that soon Irish dance would become very popular in Slovenia and that with numerous dance performances and events across Slovenia it would bring Irish culture closer to the Slovenes.               

Hello, Joan, where do you come from?
Dublin, Ireland. I lived in Australia and England for a while.

How did you start the dance?
When I was a kid, Irish dance was part of the school program. I started attending school when I was four (that's the custom in Ireland). We had a dance almost every day after school, or saturdays.
When I went to school, the dance was mainly for children and contestants, so a lot of kids stopped dancing before they started competing because they didn't have the money to train, or they lost interest. For the latest: a costume for the dance costs about EUR 1200 today.

Joan, how did you get to Slovenia?
My husband and I, who are Slovenian, met in Dublin, Ireland. I've never heard of Slovenia before. I came to Slovenia in the early 1990s. I graduated in human resources management (human resources management) and worked for many years in the business and education sector, both in Slovenia and in many other European countries.

When and how did you start irish dancing in Slovenia?
When I stopped working in the economy, I wondered what I actually wanted to do. Because a lot of people asked me about Irish culture, politics, environment, history, dance, I felt I could do something that would bring Irish culture closer to the Slovenes. It's best to do it through dance, because that's how music and culture come to people in person.  I founded the Irish Dance School in 2004 and since I did not actively dance for a while, I started attending numerous seminars and collaborated with renowned Riverdance teachers.
I was at the beginning of a new journey and I didn't know if there would be enough interest in the Irish Dance.
It was logical for me to start with the children, because dancing in Ireland is mainly for them. I asked my friends if they could bring their youngest to the course. I invited them to stay with us on the watch and give their opinion on learning. At the end of the hour, the mothers asked if they could go to the dance, too, as they enjoyed it very much. I was surprised because I didn't think girls in their 30s would want to dance. We tried together in a group of kids and mums, but soon realised it wasn't going to work, so I separated them into a children's and adult group. This was how the adult group started to operate, which was joined by new students in January 2005. Information about the Irish dance spread after I represented Ireland at SILA Bazaar before Christmas 2005, and I also had a few leaflets on the course in my purse just in case. To my great surprise, a lot of people have shown interest!

What is it like to create with Slovenian dancers?
I can't compare Slovenian dancers to Irish dancers, because I never taught in Ireland.  What I do know is that dancing in Slovenia is a form of socialising and that Slovenians are very responsible when they choose to take a course, by which I mean they come to rehearsals and have an interest in learning.

How close is Irish music to Slovenes?
When I asked the Slovenes where they knew Irish music, they said that they had heard Irish music a long time ago when The Dubliners and other artists with similar music came to Slovenia. Also in Slovenian music is the connection of Irish music. For example Andrej Šifrer also included Irish music in his songs.
Globally, irish dance and music's biggest breakthrough was made by the riverdance dance group with top-notch performances. Before that, Irish dance was known to most only people to which English is the mother tongue. In America, for example, the mass migration of Irish people makes Irish dance very popular.
It didn't start to spread in Europe until the last 20 years, when Riverdance began to become famous. I remember the first time I saw their show, I was amazed at how the dance had changed. Riverdance brought Irish dance to ease, accessibility, something the Irish never known.

St. Patrick's Day is Ireland's national holiday. How do you celebrate it?

On this day we have a number of performances and events. It's also an opportunity for everyone to get to know Irish culture, music, dance. Last year Ljubljana participated in the celebration. Ljubljana Castle was coloured in green (green represents Ireland), and much was happening on Prešeren Square in the centre of Ljubljana.

I've seen you perform a lot. Do you have a special band for gigs?

We have a group of dancers for performances, some of them with us from the beginning, others joining later. We have performances all year round, in different locations on different occasions. Our next production is with the Madolina Ljubljana Orchestra at Cankarjev dom on 20 November 2014. We have worked with them in the past and have always created wonderful collaborations.

As a complete beginner, is it good that we have at least a little dance base? How are the courses going?

Beginners don't need any dance basics. Courses for beginners are shorter, last five weeks and during this period the students have time to know whether they are interested in this dance and do not need to be financially tied up for a long time. If the dancing in them has aroused interest, the course can continue. Our experience is that most students remain in the advanced course.

Courses take place in smaller groups, the approach is personal, but also for students it is nicer because they feel more like a family. In addition to dancing, the purpose of dance socializing is a place where everyone can relax, meet new people and fill with positive energy. To this end, we often do Irish evenings, where we invite various musical guests, dance and socialise. In our country, the rule is that all students are our teachers. That's how we all learn and grow together.

I know there are special shoes for Irish dances, but what about clothes? What do I need to practice?

Sports light clothes, something you can dance in. At the beginning, soft slippers are used to learn the basics of dance. If you decide to go on, then get yourself an Irish dance slipper. Beginners start with hard shoes after a few months of learning.

What are the plans for the future?

It would be nice if more men were on the courses, laughing.

Author: Tina Erjavc