Whirling Dervish Oct 2007
The Independent September 28, 2007 Photo by Paul Daly
Read PDF File: Independent Article_Sept_07.pdf
Life & Times
Photo by Paul Daly St. John's NL
By Mandy Cook (St. John's)
Friday, September 28, 2007
By Mandy Cook
It’s all in the shoes. Oversized tap shoes, known as hornpipes, are laced about Irish dancing dynamo Shawn Silver’s ankles with black ribbon, chunky silver buckles flashing in the sunlight streaming through iDance Studio’s window overlooking the Waterford Valley in St. John’s.
Silver, the face and toe-tapping feet behind the province’s only dedicated Irish dance company, is jumping straight up as if on springs (and not the fiberglass tips which support his weight while standing on his toes), clicking his heels and tapping out a furious beat.
The well-worn hardwood is evidence to the untold number of happy feet and animated dance steps that have played out here. About 140 lovers of the traditional Irish step-dancing technique — hugely popularized by the Dublin-based Riverdance and Lord of the Dance that broke out in the mid-’90s — come to have fun and learn the rapid leg movements from Silver. But the dance instructor reveals he has a vision that goes far and beyond the recreational.
Ever since the ex-Bay Street stockbroker left a 15-year-career in economics behind in the late 1990s, Silver has followed what he says is his “calling” in life. Dancing Irish jigs and reels ever since he learned them from his grandfather — a familial talent documented by CBC’s Land and Sea and to be broadcast on Oct. 27 — Silver has been diligently developing and fostering what he says is “a hotbed” of talent in this province.
“We have the strongest Celtic culture outside Ireland itself,” he says, sitting on the floor of his studio. “We thought it was smart to add to an already very rich culture of talent and music and art and add to that an element of something that’s become very popular.”
Silver wants to use Newfoundland’s unique position as an Irish outpost and turn it into a destination location for Irish dancing talent — one of the few places in the world where dancers and enthusiasts can come to train, teach and “breed champions.”
Step-dancing is first and foremost a competitive sport, he says, and there are only about 2,000 instructors worldwide. It is an extremely rigorous form of dancing, and unlike other modern forms, is closed to interpretation or improvisation. Its strict standards are upheld by an Irish dancing committee to ensure ancient techniques are not deviated from in any way.
In order to be permitted to teach others, Silver travelled to Dublin to train with the entire cast of Riverdance. It is from this connection he has been able to regularly bring title-holding and award-winning Irish dancing stars to Newfoundland, one of which, Don McCarron, will be coming to work with Silver’s dancers in October.
“Don McCarron has been the Riverdance lead dancer since the age of 17,” he says. “Boys and girls who are 13, 14, know that if you’re a good Irish dancer, the door is wide open to you. It’s not just a trend … for young people, emerging artists, it provides opportunities to perform, to teach, to enter competition and ultimately to join some of the most fabulous shows touring the planet right now.”
Silver talks as fast as he taps. It’s easy to see how someone of his intense, positive energy could not only build a “centre of excellence for Celtic dance and culture” but could also draw the globe’s Irish dancing superstars to these shores. In particular, he’s got his razor-sharp focus trained on central Newfoundland.
The Exploits River Dance Company is a spin-off centre of iDance in Grand Falls-Windsor. Drawing on 150 dance students there, Silver and his troupe have performed at numerous festivals, including the Salmon Festival and the Flying Boat Festival this summer.
Envisioning the province as his entire base, Silver says it was only natural to stage his dance centre in the middle of the island. It is there, he says, a meeting of Irish dancers, artists and Celtic cultural figures will take place next summer, establishing Newfoundland as a centre of Irish learning — similar to and on par with other Celtic institutes such as those found in Boston, San Francisco and New York.
“We’ll be working with these major influences, so we can build our profile and develop our skills, and now we’re going to offer people from around the world to come and train with us,” he says. “You’ll see people from Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden. In turn, this creates employment and economic development.”
With funding provided by ACOA and the provincial government, Silver will bring members of Riverdance to Grand Falls-Windsor to nurture this province’s young hopefuls. Competitive dancers from Australia, the United States and Canada will also converge at the centre. Next month he will travel to Boston on his fifth trade mission to meet with other instructors and dancers.
Amidst Silver’s business-savvy seriousness courses a palpable sense of joy. He is doing exactly what he wants to be doing with his life, and it shows. His immaculately crafted strategy to bring and train the highest calibre of Celtic talent in the world to Newfoundland is conveyed with just as much enthusiasm as his demonstration of the official step-dancing Barbie doll on his shelf, shamrock-printed dress and all.
“This is way beyond Uncle Jimmy dancing with the rubber boot on his head,” he says, with a twinkle in his eye.