A Falls Church studio has won the “Olympics” in world Irish dance drama, watched by 3,000 at the 2019 competition in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Fifteen local students from the McGrath Morgan Academy of Irish Dance participated in the contest this past April, which regularly draws 5,000 dancers and 25,000 spectators from around the world who compete in various events.
This year was the 49th for the world competition and only the third time it’s been held in the U.S. Contestants come from 27 countries and range from 5 – 23 years of age and up.
Rules for the drama allow only a spoken introduction to a story which can be performed only through dancing and music, according to John Lawrence Morgan, McGrath’s principal choreographer and instructor.
McGrath’s entry in the drama competition was based on Irish folklore and titled the “Banshee in the Bedroom.”
Three students who danced in the show took a break from practice last week while Irish music played in the background and Morgan walked between rows of dancers directing them to “Smile! Smile!” while mixing in reminders of “Posture! Posture!”
Morgan’s classes in Ireland and the U.K. won three “golds” before he came to Falls Church, lured across the Atlantic by McGrath owner Lauren McGrath Dutton.
He is a world champion dancer and former member of the Irish music and dance production, Lord of the Dance, who is a big draw for prospective students and their parents, like Pam Mahony whose daughter, Molly Mostow, 12, has won regional, national, and world competitions.
Molly is a student at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School and has been dancing since she was 5. For big competitions, she practices up to 20 hours a week, her mom said.
“Dancing is a wholesome activity that takes a lot of teamwork. And, the school really likes to engage with the local community,” Mahony said.
Practice and learning also contribute to increased self-confidence.
“Here they deal with adult issues like teamwork, hard work, disappointments and stress which make them better prepare for life. Our school motto is ‘Perform with pride; compete with confidence,’” said Morgan.
Fourteen-year-olds Sophia Savage and Patrick Gareau, along with Patrick’s 18-year-old sister Mary Kate, agreed that dancing helps them to be better focused and use their time more judiciously.
“It helps you learn how to manage your time and get everything in,” said Mary Kate, who sometimes assists Morgan with corralling the students. She began Irish dancing at age 7. “I’m here a lot and still have to figure out how to better discipline myself.”
McGrath’s dancers march in parades on St. Patrick’s Day and Memorial Day, and perform at weddings, concerts and nursing homes. For the past two years its dancers have been a headliner at the White House when the Irish prime minister comes for the annual celebration, Morgan said.
Dancing for the president looks good on college applications and “Makes students stand out from the crowd.” He has students who have enrolled at Columbia, Trinity and Yale universities.
For the first time in six years, the regional Irish dance competition for students from southern states and Mexico, will be held in Washington Dec. 6 – 8 and the public is invited to come and watch McGrath defend its title for free at the Gaylord Convention Center at National Harbor.
Dance anthropologist and professor Helena Wulff calls dance drama and figure dancing the “highlights” of the world Irish dancing competitions.
McGrath has other locations in the DMV, including Manassas, Bethesda, McLean (adults only) and is planning to add a beginner’s class in Falls Church.