Dance teacher remains true to her culture

Instructor Amy Mooney guides the Irish Dancers of Augusta through a rehearsal for an upcoming show.
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At instructor Amy Mooney's signal, Baileigh Williamson counts off the routine with three quick, pistol-crack stomps against the rough wooden stage. Using her lead-in as a metronome, the dancers who surround her leap into a quick, syncopated routine that has two lines of dancers pounding out separate rhythmic lines before coming together for a series of heel-clicking scissor kicks.

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Irish dance student Baileigh Williamson practices her leap beside a mirror. Instructor Amy Mooney will take Baileigh and Alanna McArdle to Ireland to compete.  Chris Thelen/Staff
Chris Thelen/Staff
Irish dance student Baileigh Williamson practices her leap beside a mirror. Instructor Amy Mooney will take Baileigh and Alanna McArdle to Ireland to compete.

Watching carefully, Ms. Mooney walks first in front, then behind the lines, taking a few seconds here and there to straighten the ranks, whisper a word of advice or ensure that a dancer's posture is ramrod straight. For her, teaching proper technique and synchronous performance means more than preparing for any upcoming event or competition; it means being true to the traditions of the dance, her family and the culture they both stem from.

The Irish Dancers of Augusta will perform Friday at the Evening in Ireland at Julian Smith Casino, 2200 Broad St.

Ms. Mooney comes from a long matriarchal line of Irish dancers. Like the music it often accompanies, the distinctive dance form is based on traditions passed from generation to generation.

"This studio was started by Mother (Philomena Mooney) in the 1980s," Ms. Mooney said. "She learned Irish dancing from her mother. Her mother learned it in Belfast. So it is nice to be able to teach the kids something that has been such a big part of my life, to teach them that culture."

Irish dancing is typically divided into two disciplines -- soft-shoe and hard-shoe. Ms. Mooney said that when most people think of Irish dancing, it's the percussive, Riverdance -style, hard-shoe dances they imagine. That form is appealing to her because it is not only seen but also heard and, in some cases, felt.

"I don't think I could do any other kind of dancing," she said. "I just hear this. It's so specific and very much its own thing. It's so much a part of me that I can't imagine doing another art form."

Ms. Mooney's students not only perform but also compete. Over Easter, two of her pupils, Baileigh and 12-year-old Alanna McArdle, will travel with her to Belfast to compete in the World Irish Dancing championships. Ms. Mooney said that for many dancers, measuring oneself against peers is important.

"If you wanted to, you could compete every weekend," she said. "We're not quite that crazy. But we do end up going to about one competition a month."

In addition to the dancers going to Ireland, seven of Ms. Mooney's students will compete at the National Championships in Nashville, Tenn., in July.

Turning back toward her students, still striving to keep that perfect line, Ms. Mooney smiles and says the real reason she does it is for the opportunity to spend time with the students, who have become so important to her.

"I love the kids," she said. "I always tell people that even on a bad day, with 40 kids staring at you there will always be one that can cheer you up."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.

ONSTAGE

WHAT: An Evening in Ireland, featuring Brendan Nolan, Roger Drawdy and the Firestarters, and the Irish Dancers of Augusta


WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday


WHERE: Julian Smith Casino, 2200 Broad St.


COST: $15; available at Hill Drug Co., 1432 Monte Sano Ave; (706) 825-3193, (706) 955-6524, or (706) 860-4075

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