Manahawkin Youngster Liam McGinty Irish Step Dances His Way to World Championships

Jan 23, 2019
Photo by: Mary McGinty

The 2019 World Irish Dancing Championships will bring competitors from around the world to Greensboro, N.C., in April. That includes Liam McGinty of Manahawkin, who will take to the stage on Good Friday. Ten-year-old McGinty and his teammates will perform a dance drama set to Irish music, or music of a related ethnic origin, consisting, as the Worlds syllabus notes, “of reels, jigs, slip-jigs, single-jigs, hornpipes, Irish marches or Irish slow airs, or a combination of any of those dance tunes, marches or slow airs.”

Liam’s mother, Mary McGinty, explained the dance drama is “a story told through dance.” The team will be judged on portrayal of theme, including dance content and music; costume; impact on adjudicator; and the dancing itself.

This is the 49th World Championship for Irish dancing, organized – as Liam’s sister Maura, 14, pointed out – by the Irish Dancing Commission, CLRG (Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha). Liam, meanwhile, has been dancing for just four years, but from the start has demonstrated an innate talent for the pursuit. “It’s just a natural thing,” said Mary. “He goes up there and turns on the charm.”

The family, too, is quite connected to their Irish heritage, which surely strengthens Liam’s connection to step dancing. “We’re very into our culture,” Mary noted, “and Liam has been to Ireland. We’re very proud of being Irish.”

And yes, the family likes Michael Flatley, Lord of the Dance, whom Mary, Maura and their friends met once following a performance.

It was Maura who started Irish step dancing first, in a class at a local church. She was hooked, and began to train at the Murphy School of Irish Dance in Brick, now the D’Arcy School of Irish Dance.

“Liam then had no choice but to go to her practices,” Mary said with a laugh. He saw another young boy there in class, and this helped encourage him to start at the school himself. These days, the McGintys can often be found at the Brick or Wall branches of the dance school.

Liam, who also plays alto and tenor saxophone and is a Cub Scout with Pack 61 in Manahawkin, said what he likes most about Irish step dancing is “learning new things … and I like my dance family.”

At the D’Arcy School, as its website states, “Students not only learn to dance, but also develop a love for the Irish culture. From teaching ceilis to solos, beginners through champions, we consider every member of our school a part of the D’Arcy dance family.”

Liam is among those champions, as this past November he earned first place, out of 67 dancers, at the MidAtlantic Oireachtas in Philadelphia, where he competed in what is called “traditional set,” a dance of 57 seconds. Liam’s set dance was called “The Three Sea Captains,” or “The Three Cs,” as it’s known more familiarly within the dance community.

“The drama tells the story of a young Irish family crossing the Atlantic during a harsh storm, and their emotional arrival at Ellis Island after weeks at sea,” Mary explained.

“Though the dance is only 57 seconds,” she added,“ it takes months of practice to get it perfect. Irish dance requires a lot of training.”

In addition to big events like the Oireachtas and Worlds, Liam and Maura regularly compete in local competitions called Feiseanna, which, as the the Irish Dance Teachers Association of North America’s MidAtlantic Region website explains, were held in New York City beginning around 1911. “The earliest known reference of Irish step dancing in America,” meanwhile, “occurred in Philadelphia in 1789, when dancing master John Durang demonstrated a reel, jig and hornpipe.”

Liam is now – literally – stepping into a long history of Irish dance.

— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

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