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Irish Step Dance Finds Authentic Expression in Hungary

Irish step dancer Ronan Morgan Says Irish and Hungarian similarities have surprised him

EVER SINCE HUNGARY was hit with the Irish step dance craze by maverick Irish performer Michael Flatley, the ‘fastest legged Irish step dancer,’ it is safe to say that many Hungarians feel the need to ‘learn the moves’ at least once in a lifetime. Since September, 2000, Hungarians have all the opportunity, with professional Irish step dancer Ronan Morgan, at his authentic Irish-Step Dance School based in Budapest. “In fact, mine was the first Irish-run school of the kind in Hungary,” Morgan told Diplomacy and Trade.

Coming to Hungary in 1989 and immediately falling in love with the country, today he is married to a Hungarian folk dancer, and has settled in Budapest. Morgan sees a number of parallels between Hungarian and Irish culture and character. “We both have uplifting and tragic periods in our history,” he says. “Also, our mentality is very similar.” He believes Hungarians are just as proud a nation as the Irish, and just as expressive of emotions, although, seeing the Irish as less stressed. “However, dance can work miracles, for your mental health,” he claims. “As soon as you step onto the dance floor, your stress will eventually dissolve, even if you’re having a very bad day.”

Mental concentration

Still, Morgan warns that Irish step dance requires significant physical exertion and mental concentration. “Based on this, I can always spot if a student is not ‘mentally there,’ just by the quality of his movements,” he says. Proper warm-up is also essential. “Without it, you could easily break a bone,” adds Morgan, although, he has twisted his ankle during shows, only one time. “Only once in my career,” he stresses, adding that a “glitzy career can break with a break.” He remembers the first time he donned his Irish step shoes (these contain special fiberglass heels) at the age of five in his home town, Dublin. He participated in competitions and international dance festivals for 16 years when in 1998, he joined Michael Flatley’s ‘Lord of the Dance’ group. “It was a superb experience, but also an exhausting one. We often had nine performances a week each as weary as an international football match,” he recalls. In 1999, he joined to the dance ensemble ‘Chieftans,’ travelling throughout Europe, and eventually to Japan and the U.S.

He is over missing the excitement of touring the world. “Teaching is what satisfies me now. It fills my weekly schedule from Tuesday to Sunday. Monday is my only day off ,” he said. His school has produced three dance productions until today, including ‘Invasion’ (directed by multi-talent actor-director, Róbert Alföldi, currently manager of the Hungarian National Theatre), ‘Ancient Pulse’ and ‘Celtic Invasion’ (in collaboration with the Hungarian group ‘M.E.Z.’ ensemble performing Celtic music, and ‘folk-rock’ band ‘Crystal’). Some of his most talented students have had the opportunity to participate in international competitions and by 2007, the school produced 13 European Champions. This year, five of the students from Morgan’s school joined Michael Flately’s productions.

Hungarian professionals

“The 1,200 students I’ve had since teaching have proven to me that Hungarians can become professionals at step dancing. This best, especially the teenagers, have a bright future ahead,” he said. “I’m really satisfied with my students and glad for their success. In fact, my aim when creating the school was to pass on the knowledge I gained throughout my career. It is a gift to just sit back and watch my students on the big stage.” His school trains different level students. There are classes for children aged four to 12 and adults. Morgan’s students range from age 6 to 55. Starting in the ‘beginners group’ and acquiring the ‘four basic dances’, they move on to the next group gradually.
“Everybody wants to learn hard-shoe dancing first without acquiring the less showy ‘light-dance.’ However, the latter one forms the base of every Irish dance, and shouldn’t be skipped,” Morgan said.

“Just like you don’t start English learning by reading Shakespeare”, he added. According to Morgan, Hungarians are quick to pick-up even the hardest moves of Irish dancing. “The reason could be that rhythmically, the two nations’ dances are similar, he believes. From a business perspective, he says running his school is profitable, expanding in the region in the past few years. With his former students, he has established schools in Taipei and Taiwan, as well as Vienna and Graz in Austria. “I always felt that dancing is for everyone, either as a sport, or simply as a hobby to have fun,” he said. “Naturally, everyone is different in ability and interest. Some go on to travel the world, others will work to become teachers and most simply enjoy the movement, physical exercise and friendships which form in a school environment.”

Réka Alíz Francisck

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