They say that on St Patrick’s Day, everyone’s a little Irish. Some people, however, enjoy sharing the Emerald Isle’s culture year-round regardless of their ancestry.
Amanda Poole, for example, admits to having very little Irish heritage. Her family mostly originates from the other side of the Irish Sea, somewhere in Britain. But that hasn’t stopped this local dance instructor from spreading Irish traditions here in the South.
Poole, the owner of Celtic Traditions Dance Studio in Opelika, fell in love with traditional Irish dance as a child. The seeds were planted in her at a St. Patrick’s Day show at her home church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Carrolton, Ga., when she was young. But witnessing a Riverdance production not long after that church performance further watered those seeds.
“I was part of that Riverdance generation. There was a lot of us that started dancing because of Riverdance,” Poole said. “Even though it’s not the majority of my heritage, I still very much appreciate it and just love it.”
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Now as the owner of her own dance studio, Poole is continuing to plant those Irish seeds in others. She splits her time teaching between Opelika and Birmingham. Celtic Traditions competes and performs Irish dance routines across East Alabama and West Georgia.
Poole has been dancing for 25 years now. What started out recreationally with one class a week quickly grew into multiple classes and culminated in dance school in Atlanta. Eventually she started competing and has even performed for a couple of professional shows.
“At first it was just very much a, ‘Oh, this dancing is a lot of fun and I love it,’ type of thing,” Poole said. “It just kind of snowballed.”
When most people think of Irish dancing a particular image comes to mind: Individuals in line, their backs rigid, arms straight, and performing a whole lot of fancy footwork. But according to Poole, this isn’t the only Irish dancing style. It’s what she calls a solo style, one that people can enjoy by themselves.
But there is also the Ceili. These are group dances, and they are just as a prominent as the solo style.
“Those are a little looser,” Poole said. “You can think of them as more of a social style of dancing, you grab hands with a partner. There’s still not a whole lot of upper body movement with it, but there’s a little bit more in the group dances versus the solo dance.”
This unique tradition has spread far beyond the Irish diaspora. It’s one that Poole enjoys sharing with others. She said the music is her favorite part and is what really makes the art from so distinct. The dance forms evolved along with the rhythm of the music after all.
“Those forms of dances are taught the same throughout the world,” Poole said. “So I think that’s really cool because that really helps preserve the tradition. Whereas with the solo dancing, it evolves a bit more, becomes a bit more modern. But in the group dances it really does preserve a good aspect of this Irish culture.”
Celtic Traditions currently has 30 students ranging from children to adults. All of them have a love for the culture. Many, like Poole, discovered the art form through Riverdance. She said the animated film released to Netflix in 2021 has helped to bring in younger students as well.
Between classes, competitions, and exhibitions, Celtic Traditions stays busy, especially around St Patrick’s Day. They perform at schools, bars, and city events across the region.
They will perform on St. Patrick’s Day at Food Truck Friday in Opelika. Saturday, they have a performance at the Irish Bread Pub, and then will also perform in LaGrange, Ga., later that evening.
“This is our busy season,” Poole said. “We try to do performances throughout the year. But this time of year, the heat definitely turns up a little bit.”
For more on Celtic Traditions, visit celtic-traditions.net.