Cashel Dennehy sets itself apart from other schools by creating an atmosphere that offers something for everyon
BY KRISTEN O’CONNOR HECHT
People in the Irish dance community often say that once a child begins to dance, their heart beats a jig. From the sounds of things upstairs each night at the corner of 92nd Street and Center, so too do a whole lot of feet. Seven days a week the building takes on a heart beat of its own as children and adults alike learn and share the art and culture of Irish dancing.
The rhythmic patterns of the Irish music that can be heard alongside teachers coaching and children moving in and out of classrooms knowing exactly what needs to be done weave a tale of community.
Irish Dance creates decades long friendships, dedicated and talented athletes, and unsung teachers and owners who, year after year, quietly produce world class dancers, and create an atmosphere for developing life skills well beyond dancing the jig.
Cashel Dennehy School of Irish Dance is the quintessential story of the little school that could. Cashel began in 1982, by the late Dennis Dennehy, the coach of famed Riverdance originator, Michael Flatley.
When Dennis and his wife Marge retired, their daughter Kathy continued the family legacy of driving up weekly from Chicago to teach. The staff grew when childhood friends and fellow Cashel dancers Laura Gottschlich, Kate Habel and Wauwatosa resident, Maura Starr Heck joined forces to operate the school as it exists today. The addition of Alyssa Harling, great niece to Dennis and Marge Dennehy, has resulted in a strong staff of five very talented teachers.
Cashel Dennehy’s influence has been felt regionally as well, as Mr. Dennehy coached the owners of Trinity, Beglan, Kinsella and McMenamin Irish dance schools.
Cashel Dennehy can even lay claim to the youtube sensation Irish dancing prie
st, Father John Gibson, Associate Pastor at St. Dominic’s Catholic Parish in Brookfield. Father John, who began dancing at age 12 with Cashel Dennehy, was number one in the Midwest after winning the regional championship one year. During his nine-year dance career which ended when he was in college, he also placed in the top 10 in nationals and in the top 15 in the world. His video of a dancing dual against another deacon during the Rector’s Dinner at the Pontifical North American College in New York went viral in October of 2014.
The young athletes from Cashel Dennehy annually dance at large events such as Milwaukee’s Irish Fest, and are continually asked to perform with talented musical groups such as Grammy award nominees Cherish the Ladies, the Chieftains, and Gaelic Storm. They have been invited to perform at Disney World, Memphis in May and regularly appear on local television.
Over the years, Cashel Dennehy has produced a large number of regional, national and World champion cdili teams and solo dancers. In 2016 alone, Cashel Dennehy will be sending seven solo dancers to the Irish Dancing World Championships being held later this month in Glasgow, Scotland. The Irish Dancing World Championships boast the top 1% of dancers in the world and has been the subject of documentaries such as, The Big Jig.
All of our dancers work incredibly hard year round and we are so proud to send seven solo dancers to represent Milwaukee, Madison and all of Wisconsin at the World Championships,” said teacher Laura Gottschlich, TCRG, who will be in Scotland for the event. “This sport takes a tremen
dous amount of dedication and we couldn’t be more proud of every one of them. To compete at Worlds against the best of the best is such an honor and we look forward to seeing them all shine on an international stage.”
Cashel Dennehy regularly produces world qualifying dancers, which is quite a feat for a school of 189 dancers.
One of Cashel’s most prominent features is that of their ceili teams. Ceili dancing is a traditional form of folk dancing that requires eight dancers to simultaneously touch hands while dancing in perfect unison. Recognized throughout the world for producing exceptional teams mixed with both girls and boys, Cashel Dennehy won world champion titles in 2010 and 2012, and their ceili teams continually win both regional and national titles.
The teams provide a unique opportunity for kids from all over the region to learn to work together with absolute precision in preparation to compete against some of the best teams in the world. Success on these teams earns the dancers the opportunity to travel and compete all over North America and Europe.
Cashel Dennehy sets itself apart from other schools by creating an atmosphere that offers something for everyone. The school teaches and supports dancers from the age of three to it’s oldest dancer at seventy-seven.
The teachers allow families to decide if their dancer wants to be competitive, wants to dance for fitness and performing or both. Dancers begin to learn their craft dawning a pair of soft shoes, or ‘ghilles’ which are akin to ballet slippers, and then gradually move up to hard shoes, which are more like tap shoes.
Inside the walls of the studio it is very common to see an older dancer assisting a younger dancer, whether it is with tying a pair of shoes, helping to learn a new step or studying for school during a break. Often dancing 12-15 hours per week, the dancers at Cashel Dennehy create close bonds with one another as they spend a considerable amount of time performing, competing and traveling together. They often laugh as they explain that sometimes school classmates don’t quite understand when they aren’t able to socialize.
“Because I have dance.” smiles 13 year old world championship qualifier Gracie Hecht. “But I wouldn’t want it any other way. The kids here are my family and being here is my escape. We spend a lot of time together. We encourage one another. We’ve seen each other through the worst times, like when we’re hurt, or the best of times, like when we qualify for ‘Worlds’. Nobody else understands those moments. We all study together, and encourage each other in school too. I’m closer to my dancing friends than anyone else.”
“Irish dancing has given me so much more in life than I could ever get anywhere else,” Hecht continued. “I’m not afraid to speak in public or meet new people. I’ve met kids and adults from all over the world. But most importantly I know how to work hard for something I want. It’s a tough sport because it’s subjective. I’ve learned that my success or failure depends on my hard work, not anybody else’s. I don’t compete against anybody else, just myself. And yes, if you ask my Mom, she’ll tell you my heart beats a jig.”
The Cashel Dennehy dancers develop such a close and supportive bond that as the dancers progress and learn, reaching the highest levels of competition, the older dancers teach the younger dancers their famed performance, “Acapella.” The dance is a rhythmic number with no music, where literally the music comes from dozens of feet all perfectly timed and in absolute precision. The music flows from the hearts and souls of these fantastic performers and competitors. It is a stunning dance and often leaves crowds inspired and in awe of what these talented kids can do, and how they share their culture and love of Irish dance with one another.
The lessons of Irish dancing transcend the studio walls as well. Gottschlich explained, “I also love the unending life lessons that Irish dance teaches our students – from time management, to confidence, to stage presentation, to perseverance, to self motivation for goals – we are contributing to the future generation.”
The teachers and owners at Cashel Dennehy are excited for what the future holds as the school continues to grow with satellite studios in Madison and Kenosha. They enjoy being part of the Wauwatosa community and participate in as many public events as they possibly can, such as the Independence Day Parade, Chillin’ on the Avenue, the Ulster Project Family Fun.
Their hearts don’t just beat a jig: Cashel Dennehy School of Irish Dance is a little slice of Ireland right here in Wauwatosa where they cultivate the hearts of champions.
For more information about the school, see their website at: www.casheldennehy.org