There was a Scotswoman, an Irish dance school, and a lot of Czechs… Not heard that one before? Well, for the past eight years, Prague has played host to a summer school of Irish dance and traditional music. This year, the course is bigger than ever, attracting over 200 participants from Europe and America. The programme has proved a hit with the scores of Czechs to have taken part. On Tuesday, I paid it a visit.
In a school gym hall in the south of Prague, a group of around twenty warm up for another grueling afternoon of Irish step dancing classes. Among them is Kristina Roztočilová who, in similar gym halls during term time, teaches Czech school children how to Irish dance. As well as teaching, Kristina competes in ‘feisanna’ (Irish dance competitions) at home and abroad:
“We go to 'feisanna' all over mainland Europe. We have been to Salzburg, Munich and Vienna and so on, and some of our dancers have even been to London.”
And so do Czech Irish dancers have quite a good reputation, then?
“I think so, we have had some pretty good results so far, and I hope that things will get even better. That is why we are here, and we are even planning on going to the All-Ireland and Great Britain Championships, so keep your fingers crossed for us!”
Kristina is no stranger to teaching absolute beginners, but will she make a dancer out of me?
“Well, the first step that we teach very beginners is called ‘skip two threes’, it is a step that is used for moving as far as you can. So there are ‘skip two threes’, ‘sidesteps’ and ‘back two threes’ – and when you know these steps you can dance basic ceili dances.”
So can you teach me a skip two three right now? What do you have to do?
“You have to cross your feet or legs, put your right heel next to your left toe, and try to do this – one two three, one two three.”
There was some confusion over which was my right leg and which was my left, but once that initial glitch was sorted, Kristina and I were skip two three-ing across the floor at breakneck speed.
As well as dance, participants at the summer school can also learn to play some traditional Irish instruments. Michel Sikiotakis has come all the way from France to teach the course’s budding musicians:
“We are doing a little uilleann pipe class after the flute class. An uilleann pipe is an Irish bagpipe and uilleann means elbow.”
The summer school closes on Friday with a dance display in Prague’s Divadlo Ponec. For those who are interested in the ninth annual Irish dance school, more details can be found at www.rinceoiri.cz
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