THE HUB: Following The Leaders

A chat with Beth Anne McFadden of McFadden Academy of Irish Dance

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Beth Anne McFadden. (Photo by Luke Baynes)

It has been just about a year since the McFadden Academy of Irish Dance moved from Shelburne Road to its present location off South Brownell Road in Williston.

Owner Beth Anne McFadden couldn’t be happier with the relocation.

“The location couldn’t be better,” McFadden said. “All the parents are so happy, because you have Wal-Mart and Home Depot around the corner and they can do their shopping. It’s a great, great location.”

McFadden, a fourth generation Irish native of Long Island, danced competitively from ages 9-20. When she was 17, she danced in the World Irish Dance Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. When she was 24, she became the owner of Vermont’s only certified Irish dance school.

“I took my first lesson and I didn’t shut up at the dinner table that night,” said McFadden of her 9-year-old self. “I think it’s great that I get to do what I love for a living – not many people can say that.”

McFadden explained that becoming certified as an Irish dance instructor involved a rigorous two-day exam in Los Angeles by an extension of An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha, the Gaelic commission of Irish dance, and that the certification allows her dancers to be eligible for the world championships.

Earlier this month, the World Irish Dance Championships 2012 were held in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Among the competitors was Sean Downing, a 17-year-old senior at Essex High School and a student at the McFadden school.

“It was lots of fun,” said Downing of his time in Belfast. “It was a really awesome experience just to see the level of dancing there is in this world.”

Downing added that his love of Irish dance is based on both the rigidity of its structure and its freedom of expression.

“It’s a type of dance where you really have to follow the rules, but you are really expressing yourself through what you can do,” Downing said. “You have to be powerful, you have to show off your stamina and you have to have good technique.”

McFadden said that while “Riverdance,” the Michael Flatley-initiated craze of the 1990s, doesn’t conform to the traditional standards of Irish dance, it did much to increase the popularity of Irish dance in general.

“When I first joined, Riverdance hadn’t come out yet, and when it came out, our school’s enrollment doubled in a year in Long Island. It was crazy,” said McFadden. “It brought Irish dance into the mainstream.”

While McFadden’s school – which has grown from 20 to over 100 members in just under four years – is capable of producing world-class dancers such as Downing, it’s also open to beginners as young as four years old.

“In my school, you can dance for recreation, or competition or anywhere in between,” McFadden said.

Downing summed up the school’s appeal by focusing on its instructor.

“She’s just a great teacher.  She works with you, she’s really fun, but she’s serious at the same time,” Downing said. “She comes from Long Island, where Irish dancing is more serious, but she has really adapted to the Vermont attitude where activities are fun.”