Mask Up and Dance!

Mask up and Dance
By Catherine Leneghan Fox
Technical advising: Susan Mangan

Cancelled: After a long winter, the community looks forward to the “Green Season”. Joyful Irish folk music and lively dancing ushers in St. Patrick’s Day and the arrival of spring.

Irish Dance Competitions Cancelled
However, revelers were not be treated to jigs and reels during the spring of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world at large.  Irish celebrations large and small were cancelled throughout the Northeast Ohio region, culminating in the cancellation of the beloved Cleveland St. Patrick’s Day Parade.   Irish Dance competitions from the Worlds to the Nationals to the little local feiseanna were cancelled due to COVID restrictions.  

The first to start up again were held the first weekend of August, in Utah and Oklahoma City – both were very small and strictly policed; that’s not easy to do with dancers who can’t stand still!

Fearful, but hopeful, the community quarantined and looked toward the future. As dance studios and other businesses were closed, Irish dancers continued to practice through on-line classes.  They remained hopeful that local feiseanna (competitions) would continue. The world of the Irish dancer would come to a halt as all competitions, including the 50thWorld Championships to be held in Dublin, Ireland, would be cancelled due to COVID-19.

The near future seemed bleak as the North American Irish Dance Championships to be held in Nashville, Tennessee in July were the next casualty of the worldwide pandemic. Despite disappointment, Irish dance teachers worked overtime to engage their students on-line, offering virtual classes, puzzles, challenges and fitness routines that would keep them fit and active.

Some Irish dancers choose to take their talent beyond the stage and spend many years studying to become An Coimisiun le Rin ci Gaelacha (CLRG) certified Irish Dancing Commission instructors. The certified instructors are affiliated with the CLRG and are known as TCRGs, the abbreviated form of Teagascoir Choimisiuin le Rinci Gaelacha.

Becoming a Certified Instructor
To become a certified instructor, students prepare and sit for grade exams. Grade Exams are a 12-level series of increasingly difficult requirements that are scored individually by a certified examiner. A set of criteria are used to evaluate fundamental Irish dancing skills, including timing, rhythm, carriage, and execution. The exams increase from basic skills and dances to increasingly more complex material, including a knowledge of traditional sets and ceili dancing.   Results from each Grade exam are sent to the Examination Authority of CLRG in Ireland.

Grade Exams are not a competition, and no awards are given.  It is simply offering dancers who wish to improve constructive comments, score sheets and certificates, to see where they are at that point in time, and what to work on going forward.  

Successful candidates receive a certificate from CLRG, and with a passing grade in all twelve exams, they have reached the pre-requisite for application to take the final TCRG exam. While not all who take the Grade Exams go on to become a TCRG, they receive the satisfaction of completing all twelve levels. 

As dancers were permitted to return to their studios, Cleveland area Irish dance instructor and founder of the Leneghan Academy of Irish Dance, Catherine Leneghan Fox TCRG,ADCRG, applied to the CLRG in Dublin to hold grade exams in Cleveland on the weekend of July 18-19, 2020. The application was successful; Muireann ni Chiara, a resident of Granville, Ohio and native of Tipperary, Ireland, was appointed as the examiner. 

The exams were run over the course of two days. Dancers from twelve different dancing schools and four states registered to sit for the exams to be held at Leneghan Academy, in Westlake, Ohio.

11 Schools from Four States Compete
Dancers travelled from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Students from Bell, Brady-Campbell, Burke (Cleveland and Youngstown), Celtic Academy, Egan, Irwin, Leneghan, MacConmara, MilwaukeeID, O’Hare (Michigan), O’Malley, and The Academy schools tested their skills during this examination:  Overall, fifty-eight dancers, aged 6 to over 21, were scheduled to take a range of 140 different exams during the two-day event.

Due to COVID-19, precautionary measures were strictly enforced in an effort to keep dancers safe during the exams. Three large tents were erected in the parking lot to aid in social distancing.  Masks were worn when dancers and volunteers were entering and exiting the facilities and when the dancers were not engaged in evaluations.

Dancers were scheduled in small groups of six to eight. Parents and other non-dancers were not permitted in the studio during the 60-90 minutes of individual exams. Hand sanitizer and wipes were readily available, and surfaces were cleaned at regular intervals.

Volunteer parents and dancers from the Leneghan Academy made the weekend an efficient, enjoyable, and successful event. Looking ahead to the future, the CLRG rules state that dancers must wait three months before sitting for another round of exams. If feiseanna are not up and running in the fall, efforts will be made to host another round of dance exams, in October 2020.

[Editor’s Note: Catherine is a certified teacher and adjudicator of Irish Dance.  She is the founder and director of the Leneghan Academy of Irish Dance in Westlake, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.  You can learn more about her dance academy at]

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