The fancy footwork of 13 high-level competitive Irish dancers will be on display in a Christmas-themed performance this weekend.
The Backbeat Irish Dancers of the Possak Hampshire Academy of Irish Dance are putting on a thunderous, high-energy show at the Rotary Performing Arts Centre (RPAC) Dec. 2 at both 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to help pay for travel expenses to attend next year’s North American and world championships.
Dance teacher and artistic director Ali Hampshire said the dancers, ages 12 to 23, have been rehearsing the Riverdance performance since September.
“It’s very high energy, very intricate footwork,” she said. “There is something about the rhythm with the shoes on the floor that gets the heartbeat going. The stage is a hollow wood stage so the sound is just brilliant in that little theatre. You can expect a lot of thunder in there.”
There will be group, trio, duo and solo numbers to a combination of Celtic and Christmas music, Hampshire said.
“It’s young talent, which is really exciting,” she said. “These kids are not just in dance but these are bright kids and they are going places and it’s exciting to support them as they work towards their goals.”
Hampshire said the dancers spend approximately 20 hours each week, training inside and outside the studio.
The small group of dancers is like one big family, she said.
“The friendships that they’ve built over the years performing and competing together are really foundational to who they are as a troupe,” she said. “It’s so important for kids to grow up with something like that in their lives. It really becomes their world.”
She said the closeness of the group shows when they dance.
“They’ve been performing together for so long that they’ve got that sixth sense where that other person is positioned on the stage,” she said. “They are very used to working together and performing together.”
The connection with their teachers is also tight, Hampshire said.
“As teachers, we get to take these dancers from their very first step all the way to the world stage if they choose,” she said.
“We have dancers who are 17 years old and started when they were five. That’s an incredible mentorship and great relationship to build.”
The fact that some dancers find themselves in competition with each other doesn’t impact that sense of family, Hampshire said.
“They really support each other,” she said. “They are genuinely happy for each other.”
All nine dancers from Okotoks, three from Calgary and one from Lethbridge qualified to compete at the North American Irish Dance Championships in July 2018 at the Western Canadian Championships in Victoria earlier this month. Five qualified for the World Irish Dance Championships in Glasgow, Scotland in April.
Hampshire said the girls have had plenty of practice this past year with performances at the opening ceremonies for the PC party convention in March at the Telus Convention Centre, the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in September during a Daniel O’Donnell concert and the Canmore Highland Games last summer.
Tickets to see the Backbeat Irish Dancers perform cost $15 and are available at possakhampshire.com. The troupe is also hosting a bake sale in the basement of the RPAC during the performance.