Monday, June 24, 2002

Irish dancers whirl and twirl


Stepping out: Cincinnati Feis draws 1,140

By Cindy Kranz, ckranz@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Fourteen-year-old Rachel Stegeman seems to barely break a sweat as she dances a rigorous Irish jig before three judges.

        “It's not as hard as it looks for the dancer,” the Covedale girl said after she finished. “It takes a whole bunch of practice. You have to be in excellent shape to stay strong for the entire dance.”

        Rachel was one of 1,140 competitors Sunday at the 19th Annual Cincinnati Feis, an Irish dance competition at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington.

        Dancers, mostly ages 5 to 20, came from 57 Irish dance schools nationwide.

        The convention center was filled with dancers wearing colorful silk costumes bearing embroidered Celtic designs. Years ago, most costumes were velvet and weighed up to 10 pounds. These costumes, which cost $650 to $1,200, weigh two to three pounds.

        The Irish dance is enjoying a resurgence of popularity today.

        “Riverdance, Lord of the Dance and Dancing on the Edge brought it to the public eye,” said Marilyn Stegeman, Rachel's mother. “Once it hit the public eye, it mushroomed.”

        The Stegemans belong to the multi-generational Weber family of Irish dancers.

        Mary Anne Weber of Mount Airy has been the entries secretary for all 19 years of the competition, sponsored by the Cincinnati Irish Cultural Society. Her daughter, Allison Weber Erickson of Anderson Township, was 10 when she started taking classes.

        “She loved it the day she walked in,” Mrs. Weber said. “She qualified for national championships three times.”

        Now, Mrs. Erickson owns Erickson Academy of Irish Dance in Anderson. Her 5-year-old daughter, Anna, dances.

        Rachel, who danced Sunday in championships — the highest level — will compete in the nationals next month in Boston and a world competition next April in Ireland.

       



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