Liam Harney teaches the famed “magic step.”
By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
While far too young to remember the wildly successful nineties cultural phenomenon “Riverdance,” the children who gathered at the library on Tuesday to learn about Irish dancing were nonetheless delighted to take their first steps.
Yes, a group of around fifteen children from the “Fortnite Dance Challenge” generation were taught a few moves by Liam Harney of the Harney Academy of Irish Dance, a former champion Irish step dancer who once replaced Michael Flatley as the lead dancer in “Riverdance.”
But while flossing and doing the tidy may be all the rage with kids these days, Irish dancing has an advantage over most other styles: kids can learn it quicker and feel better about their skills at a faster rate. As Harney explained,
“It has more of a hook because you’re working rhythmically, number one,” explained Harney, “and you’re only working in foot patterns, so you’re not trying to coordinate the eyes, the upper body, the arms, and the legs. You can catch their attention much quicker through just giving them simple patterns of their feet.” Harney used to own a studio in San Diego that taught all styles of dance, but used Irish dancing as the seed through which students understood the other forms.
Dealing with such a young group of students provided many issues for Harney - firstly, their inability to distinguish left from right. To get around this, small pieces of red and yellow tape were placed on the children’s shoes, and the instructions became color-coded rather than based on left and right.
“Red and right is easy for the kids to remember, but I do believe a lot in color-coding things and using visuals for learning.”
Harney used a variety of methods to keep the kids’ attention, ranging from a game of “Irish dancing baseball” to a circle dance, to a hand clapping game designed to teach kids musical rhythm. A few times, the kids were taught a series of steps in slow motion. Two older helpers of Harney’s then showed the kids what the steps looked like at full speed, and with musical accompaniment. This elicited “oohs” and “aahs” from the children every time it happened.
The primary difference between this class and one at Harney’s studio is the homogeneous ability of everyone involved. While everyone at the library was a day-one beginner, in a real studio, classes would be broken down into four levels of student - a technique Harney believes motivates students to consistently strive to advance to the next level.
“We have an open-door policy. We like when students trickle in rather than everyone starting on the same day. This was a hard class to teach where everyone is new on the same day. When you come to an actual studio, it’s really four levels, walking, almost getting it to music, getting it to music, and progressing onto the next dance. So we have four teachers in every level one class that make that happen. The students are seeing what the end result is a lot more often, because the next level up is right there - plus they have the ambition to advance to whatever the next step is that’s taking place in the same room.”