"You don't have to be Irish to enjoy Irish dancing. We have children from all over the world who come to enjoy the dance and music. It's also great exercise and very social," says Kathryn O'Connor-Barton, founder of O'Connor-Barton Irish Dance, which runs classes across the city.
Francesca, aged nine, decided to give Irish dancing another try: earlier this year, she attended a full term of weekly lessons with another dance school but learned little more than a few basic steps while losing any confidence in her ability to bounce and kick along with the rest.
Happily, O'Connor-Barton's smaller classes and skilled management of children with different levels of expertise seem to avoid this. Francesca joins a class of six children, which starts with five-minute warm-up stretching. The teacher leads the girls, ranging in age from four to 12, through a series of steps, before allocating pairs of children to practise specific dances while she teaches Francesca the lead round to the beginners' reel. Francesca then practises the steps with another girl. Afterwards, the group dances together kicking their feet as they bounce around the room. "We have lots of fun as well as learning," says O'Connor-Barton, who seems adept at balancing discipline and encouraging the children to keep trying difficult moves.
According to the Irish Dancing Commission in Dublin, more than 80 million people in the world claim Irish heritage. Thanks, too, in large part to such popular international shows as Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, there is growing interest in Irish dancing, beyond a cultural art form. O'Connor-Barton explains the focus is on footwork, performed either solo or in teams (ceili and set dancing).
O'Connor-Barton has been teaching Irish dance to children and adults for 10 years and has competed in major international competitions. She recently led a group to Taipei, where they won 11 prizes in a competition for Irish dance schools in Asia.
Verdict: a resounding success. Francesca says she learned more in one class than 10 with her previous teacher. She was enthusiastic about practising and proud to have been given an official O'Connor-Barton Irish Dance T-shirt.
The cost ranges from HK$1,200 to HK$1,500 for eight to 10 one-hour classes per term at various locations in Hong Kong.
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