Teelin Irish dancing is the reel thing

The Teelin School of Irish Dance will be part of Columbia Orchestra's Symphonic Pops program on March 17.
The Teelin School of Irish Dance will be part of Columbia Orchestra's Symphonic Pops program on March 17.(Submitted photo)

These are heady times for performer Joe Duffey, who spent his formative years at Columbia's Teelin School of Irish Dance getting ready for a career that materialized right on cue. As a dancer, choreographer and assistant director of the Teelin Dance Company, the 20-year-old reigns supreme in the world of hoofing or what he calls, "Irish dance flavored with a lot more percussion and a bit of edginess."

Last month Duffey joined Teelin's founding director Maureen Gately on stage for the world premiere of "Stepdance" at the Weinberg Theater in Frederick. The event featured the Teelin troupe plus guest artists, including ballerina Rebecca Friedman from Howard County. Nonetheless, it was Duffey who could fit so many different sounds into a shuffle when he barely lifted his shoe off the floor. Even more impressive was how the champion Irish dancer hunkered down into those rat-tap-tap-taps without breaking a sweat.


Irish dance fans can catch Duffey, along with members of the Teelin company, at the Jim Rouse Theatre March 17 — St. Patrick's Day — at 7 p.m., as part of the Columbia Orchestra's Symphonic Pops program.

"St. Patrick's Day is a crazy time...wonderful, of course, but yes, hectic," Duffey said last week before doing a television interview at the Howard County Center for the Arts. The former National Champion of Irish Dance is one of nine "Rising Stars" finalists who will compete during the Howard County Arts Gala at Howard Community College on March 24.

Duffey, who was dressed in traditional Irish attire, accented with shiny silver vest, for the interview, praised the Teelin for the opportunities that have led to his success.

"Like a lot of kids, I saw 'Riverdance' and was impressed with the powerful, rhythmic force from this show," said the tall, lanky dancer. "I became serious about Irish dance when I was 9 years old, around the time I started taking lessons at Teelin, first in Ellicott City and now in Columbia. I decided there was a whole lot more to Irish dancing. Maureen (Gately) showed me how I could take the looseness of tap dance and incorporate it with the rigidity of Irish...it gives you a whole new art form."

When asked to describe the joy of performing, Duffey said: "My favorite thing about dancing is showing the audience something they have never seen before."

The Teelin School of Irish Dance is known for performances that accentuate the energy of Irish dance with the graceful beauty of the jigs and reels, to the thundering beat of percussive dance. Under the direction of Gately, there are two Teelin troupes performing in over 16 shows in our area over the next two weeks. The entire Teelin School of Irish Dance (nearly 300 dancers) presents its annual showcase at the Jim Rouse Theater in April.

Dance will be a major part of the St. Patrick's Day festivities in our area, which include parades, demonstrations and professional shows. The Teelin School dancers will be among the many taking part in Sunday's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in Baltimore.

At a recent Thursday evening session, three-dozen young girls and a smaller group of teenage boys were brushing up on their Irish dance steps in preparation for upcoming events. Among the group were Saoirse De Boy, 12, a seventh-grader at St. Louis Catholic School; Gaby Stratmann, 11, who attends Folly Quarter Middle School; and Ellie King, 12, a student at McDonogh School. All three girls will compete in the Irish World Championship in Belfast during spring break.


"It's not only the competitions that I enjoy, I also love dancing in the shows," Saoirse said.

Ben Koolbeck, an 18-year-old home-schooled senior, is the fourth Teelin dancer slated to compete in the Belfast World Contest.

Seamus Burke, 13, stood out among the boys whose feet became a blur of cacophonous beats. The home-schooled Ellicott City resident will compete at the national level in Chicago in July. He favors the "Treble Jig," danced in hard shoes. "If I'm lucky, I'll be called back to do a set dance," which means Seamus will get to perform alone onstage in front of three international judges.

For information about Teelin Irish Dance School activities, go to http://www.teelin.com. For ticket information for the Columbia Orchestra's March 17 concert at the Jim Rouse Theatre, go to http://www.columbia.orchestra.com.