"I probably have about 20 Irish students [out of a total of more than 70]," says Irish native Catriona Newcombe, founder and head instructor at Echoes of Erin School of Irish Dance. "The rest are local, Canadian, Malaysian, and Singaporean."
"Irish dance here is so sociable - we do so much. It's not just a dance class - it's all about the community. It's the Irish community coming together to celebrate Irishness. And you don't have to be Irish."
Newcombe, who's been in Hong Kong for about five years, opened the doors to her school shortly after she arrived. At the time, Irish dance was barely on the radar. With the assistance of St Patrick's Society in Hong Kong, and perhaps Riverdance, she gradually helped the community develop an interest in dance. The school operates from rented venues in Wan Chai and Sai Kung and plans to expand into other areas before the end of the year.
The school's name comes from Newcombe's mother. While teaching in Florida, in the US, Newcombe sent an "Echo the Dolphin" postcard to her mother. "A few weeks later, I called her [she's a poet/columnist/author] for advice on what to name a piece of choreography I had just completed. She suggested Echoes of Erin [Erin means Ireland]." Newcombe liked the name so much she decided to use it for her school name.
Echoes of Erin will host an open rince feis (dance competition) tomorrow. Fifty-five competitors will take the stage, competing in seven categories of Irish dance - reel, light jig, single jig, slip jig, treble jig, hornpipe and St Patrick's Day. "All the jigs are very similar but are all done at different speeds," says Newcombe. "Slip jig, I would say, is the slower and graceful one. Light jig is more sharp. Single jig is the really bouncy and energetic one. It's the one where you've got to show that you've got stamina." Each category is divided into age groups. Echoes of Erin's students make up the bulk of the competitors.
Bethan Cotton, 11, is one of the hopefuls competing tomorrow. She practises twice a week at Echoes of Erin and is thrilled to enter her first dance competition. She plans to get a good night's rest and stretch thoroughly before the event. She sees co-ordination as a key skill to being a great dancer. "I would be very pleased if I won," says the Year Seven student from Renaissance College. "I dance a lot and would love to see all that practice pay off."
Rince Feis Hong Kong will be held at Bradbury School (43 Stubbs Rd) from 10am to 5pm tomorrow. It's free to watch and you can visit echoesirishdance.com for details about the dance school.