Visiting with Charles and Marianne Politte, owners and operators of Claddagh Irish Dance School in Park Hills, was a special treat and rich in ancestral history as they shared their story with us and their passion for Celtic heritage.
Irish Dance has an entire culture of its own that I was completely unaware of before talking with Mr. & Mrs. Politte. “Irish Dance is considered an athletic sport,” Marianne shared emphatically. As the Director of Dance at the school, Marianne began ballet at only 7 years old. She started Irish dance at 13 in her hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina. Becoming an accomplished student of Tighe School of Irish Dance and a founding member of Friends of Ireland Dancers, she also trained with eight-time Irish Dance World Champion, John Carey. She is no stranger to the stage as she has performed in many shows, parades, and international festivals.
Marianne met her husband, Charles, through a series of what some may call ‘coincidental events’, but Marianne called “Destiny” with a playful smile. Together, they decided to settle down from their international careers and raise a family back in Charles’ birthplace, here in the Missouri Parkland.
It was evident that family is a central focus of everything the couple does now. With three kids and a dance school to run, they are thankful for the flexibility of owning their own business and making their children’s home education a priority. “This is a family business, and the students that come here become a part of the family,” Charles said. Marianne added that many parents who have placed their children in the Irish Dance school often coming from other forms of dance and are appreciative that they have fewer worries with entrusting their kids in the Politte’s care.
Parents do not have to worry about what kind of music their kids will be dancing to, revealing outfits they may be required to wear, or provocative dance moves. “We don’t do tights or leotards, the kids practice in shorts”, Marianne shared that it is more practical for this sport. In this way, it is very ‘family friendly’ and boys and girls of all ages are encouraged to participate.
They offer classes on weekday nights for ages 4 to adult, for beginners through advanced and you can enroll online at their website. Marianne said that, except for a shy few, all the dancers love to perform so she tries to book many events for them. They perform monthly at nursing homes in the Parkland and already have this year’s calendar booked for those free performances. The folks at the nursing homes love it when the Irish Dancers come. There are standing ovations all the time! March is, understandably, one of their biggest months for performance requests and they already have several bookings for 2017.
Teaching traditional dances, students learn much more than dance steps. They take away the rich Irish culture that has been handed down for hundreds of years. The students are taught the historical origins of the songs and dances and are excited to take that home and share with their families. Throughout the course of our conversation with the Politte’s, you could tell that they have a deep sense of pride that comes along with sharing their Celtic heritage. Marianne shared how the Irish are very particular and proud of this form of dance, or athletic sport, and want to make sure that it is preserved and kept traditional.
We also got the story behind the name, “Claddagh”. Yes, you’re probably pronouncing it wrong; I certainly was. Pronounced, “Klah-dah” (helpful youtube video here!), it is the Gaelic word that represents the symbol of the hands, heart, and crown most popularly seen on Claddagh rings. I love history and anything Celtic, personally, so I was very pleased when Marianne consented to Charles’ urging to share the legend behind the Claddagh. A hundreds-of-years-old story passed down through generations is paraphrased here for your enjoyment.
Long ago, there was a young gentleman and young lady who fell in love. As was common in that time, they couldn’t marry until the young man made his fortune. So he went away to sea hoping that their love was true and that she would be waiting when he returned. While out at sea, the ship was attacked. The young man was taken captive as a slave and sold to a blacksmith/silversmith. He was captive for a long time but learned the trade of the smithy well. He learned so well, that he was able to buy his freedom and sail back to his love. When he finally returned, he found that his love did wait for him, and he crafted her a ring to symbolize their love, loyalty, and friendship.
“The love is represented with the heart, the loyalty with the crown, and the friendship with the hands,” Marianne concluded. These are the values that they teach along with the Irish dance steps. “Love of dance. Loyalty to tradition. Friendship not competition”. “It truly is a team sport, and no one dancer is singled out as the ‘star'”.
Marianne showed us the dance studio as well as the different types of shoes worn for specific dances. She kindly let me photograph one of the stunning, traditional performance dresses. “The girls are so excited to get to wear these dresses,” Marianne shared with a grin. And there is no question why. It is an achievement to get to wear these dresses, they explained, the students don’t have to purchase them, but are allowed to wear them for certain performances. The only expenses beyond class fees are for their shoes or ‘ghillies’, socks and t-shirts that are ordered through the school.
Having the opportunity to sit in on one of the actual dance classes was a great pleasure and honor. The students were eager to participate in stretches and warm ups and then get right into the complicated steps and dance routines. The students requested some specific steps or warm up routines of their teacher ‘Miss Mary’, as they called her, and Marianne was a kind and gracious teacher, keeping them on task, yet making it fun for all.
Marianne’s passion for bringing something unique and beautiful to the Parkland area is evident as she passes on her expert training and experience to the students in her school.
If you are looking for an active outlet for your kids or yourself to enjoy the Celtic culture that is both fun and challenging, look no further then Claddagh Irish Dance School in Park Hills. Follow them on Facebook to stay up to date as they are moving to a new location just up the street into a larger space to accommodate their growing dance school! Go to their website to register online for classes or call Marianne for more information.
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