Huge surprise celebrating 50 years ​of The Adelaide Academy of Irish Dancing 

On Sunday 4th December our annual Christmas Concert was brought to a halt by Miss Kelli-Rai with the announcement that there was going to be a short tribute acknowledging that the Adelaide Academy of Irish Dancing was celebrating its 50th birthday.  This was such a surprise and the surprises didn’t stop there.  After a raucous rendition of our “old” travelling song  “Oh we are the Adelaide Academy, the ones in the orange and black” the stage quickly filled with many of our pupils from years gone by. There was much reminiscing of earlier days, many hugs, and overall it was fantastic to see some of these dancers again.  A video tribute of the Adelaide Academy had been prepared by Shannon, and there were many happy memories there, including a greeting from our dear friend and ex-teacher Brendan Tiernan .

I cannot believe that so many of our past pupils came along for this occasions. In whatever aspect of life you think of 50 years is a long time, and on some occasions it has been a VERY LONG TIME!!   We have been blessed with great support from our families, and now the younger generations are there to keep things going – to Kelli-Rai, Heather, Kain and Shannon – thank you for all you have done and continue to do. Well done in keeping it a secret, and thank you for this honour.

As I got to talk with the ex pupils it was so great to hear that your memories of the Adelaide Academy were not of your great successes (and you had many) but of the friendships you made, the trips away, the fun things that happened, the halls we taught in, the part my dear late parents played in caring for you all, the romances that evolved from the dancing classes, and even some marriages, the influence our dear friend Brendan Tiernan had on us all, the very highs and the very sad events in all our lives, and how I would always say “JUST ONE MORE TIME”  and to sing all the dances as I teach. Sad to say I still do this!  I suppose after 58 years of teaching it is a bit hard to get out of the habit!

So many fantastic memories over the past 50 years, and at the end of the concert there was a “Meet and Greet” in the foyer with food, drinks and a giant cake made by Kerry Hanna for all to enjoy. Kathy and I were presented with tickets to see Matilda the Musical which I know we will enjoy.

It was a day of very high highs and low lows as our brother-in-law Kevin had been seriously injured in an accident not long before the concert was due to start, so unfortunately some family members missed out on sharing what was a fantastic event.

The parting words of many - can we have a reunion as there were so many who could not come along for one reason or another. We will try to program something, perhaps in a Park, where you can bring families along too.

Thank you again for such a wonderful tribute.

 Margaret and Kathy

History of Adelaide Academy

We began our Irish dancing tuition at the suggestion of the Irish nuns at St. Joseph’s School, Hindmarsh, where
we attended school.  Until that time we were firmly ensconced as members of the Flinders Park Calisthenics Club,
where mum was an accompanist. We took part in regular competitions, and the teacher Mrs. Mortimer was sad
​to see us leave. (In hindsight she may have been sad at losing a very talented and experienced dance accompanist!)

We started one Thursday night, (I was 11 and Kathy was 9), at the PW Doherty School of Traditional Irish Dancing,
at the Rince Hall in Wakefield Street (alongside St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral), and we have not stopped since. The
principal teachers were Arthur Gilligan, Michael Kelly and Jack Doherty, and the school had many dedicated teachers.
Our teachers were mainly Gwen Hickey (Jones) and Valmai Moriarty. These teachers not only taught us Irish dancing
​skills, but instilled in us a love and passion of all the dancing encompassed– a love which remains until today.

We both took to Irish dancing with great enthusiasm, and encouraged by our parents went on to take part in competitions that were offered at that time, where we were quite successful. One of my earliest memories is of a performance at Woodville wearing a white dress, with a green sash and school shoes. We then progressed to having our own costumes – a  green woollen pleated skirt, with a white ruffled lace front and a black velvet jacket with little silver beads sewn at strategic points on the jacket. A thick green shawl was proudly kept in place by a large Tara brooch which was an essential part of the costume. Knee high green woollen sox completed the look. Black tapes criss-crossed up the sox and bright shiny silver buckles on the shoes completed the “look”. (see photos in the gallery). We only ever had hard shoes, as the soft shoe style had not yet been introduced. Black lace-up school shoes were worn, and at some stage we progressed to proper hard shoes - lace-up shoes with no taps, shoes with leather taps, then shoes with taps studded in nails - (not good for the floors in the various halls we danced in and there was not a piece of fibreglass in sight!). Our costumes were made to last for many years, so the skirt was on a bodice with tucks and just kept being let down and down with growth. The gap between skirt and sox was not a large one, as in those days Irish dancing was essentially very modest. Taking part in the New Year’s Day competition on the Macclesfield Oval and St. Patricks Day competition in Kapunda in these heavy costumes, and in outdoor, soaring temperatures was in itself worthy of a first prize. Many a heat stroke, blood nose, or a faint was part of the competition program. In these times we did not just do 40 or 48 bars of music, but sometimes up to 7 steps – in the reel there was a circle after each step, and remember we were in hard shoes. The slip jig was called the Foxhunter’s Jig, and this too was executed in hard shoes. At these outdoor competitions a piano was placed on the tray of the truck which was our stage, and we would dance to the reels, jigs, Foxhunter’s Jigs, hornpipes, and traditional set dances played by Father Kevin O’Hannan, OP, Eugene, Ellie and Desmond O’Leary and John Gilligan. Sometimes the bouncing of the dancers on the tray of the truck would cause the piano to move or slide sideways making it very difficult for these musicians. Prizes in those days consisted of silver cake servers, cups, saucers and plates, a set of spoons or 2/6 (two shillings and six pence). Trophies, medals and sashes had not yet been introduced.

Some of the most special memories of being an Irish dancer of this era were the fantastic St. Patrick’s Night Concerts at the Australia Hall, now the Royalty Theatre. We performed to packed houses, and the program offered item after item of Irish dancing supported by Adelaide’s leading vocalists and musicians, and the show stopping appearances by Arthur Gilligan and Michael Kelly – master showmen (well before the time of the great Michael Flatley).

We also had an annual gathering called the Aireacht which was held on the Rostrevor College Oval. Dancing competitions, ​displays, the Irish Pipe Band, and many other Irish activities took place on this day.

When Arthur and Michael retired because of work commitments, the running of the school was handed over to Margaret, Kathy, Maureen Carpenter (Smith), and Frances Brown (Kinnear). The school was re-named the SA School of Traditional Irish Dancing, and Carmel Doyle (Innes) later joined the teaching team. The SA School of Traditional Irish Dancing continued for many years, and then other Irish Dancing Schools began – the Tiernan School, the Carrick School, the Kerry School and the Murphy School. Later on there were more.  

The Adelaide Academy of Irish Dancing was established in October 1966 by Margaret and is one of the longest continuously running Irish Dance Schools in Australia. The advent of another dancing school in South Australia gave new and current dancers choice, competition and this in itself raised the standard of dancing. Dancers began travelling interstate to compete, and this inspired dancers and teachers alike to improve and copy what they saw. Costume changes starting creeping in and one of the first costumes of the Adelaide Academy was a white pleated skirt, white blouse and coloured velvet waistcoats.  Mum and Dad were actively involved in the Adelaide Academy until their deaths, dad in 1992 and mum in 2011, always supporting us, at every class running the canteen, travelling with the dancers, organising and running fundraising events, offering  friendship, and encouragement and always making sure everyone was part of the big Adelaide Academy family. We were indeed very lucky teachers.

Along the way our youngest sister Peta, also took up dancing, and it was at the classes that she met her husband Kevin, the son of the late Anne and Bill Ryan of Elizabeth. Theirs was not the only romance to blossom from within the classes of the Adelaide Academy.   My son Mark and Tara Atkinson (McCabe) married in 1995.  Kevin and Peta were part of the era of dancers such as Geraldine Hannigan, Frank Mensforth, Tony Fogarty, Roger Kirby, Denise Bates, Anne Beaty and Margaret Beaty. This troupe went on to win the Irish Chronicle Trophy in a talent competition organised by the Irish Association, and this trophy is still in use today. Peta and Kevin have two children Kieran and Shannon, who both danced for the Adelaide Academy. 

As the years passed more formal competitions were held at the Highland Games on the Adelaide Oval and at the TK Shutter Reserve at Klemzig and in 1969 the very first South Australian Irish Dancing Championships were held at the Irish Hall.  

Margaret shared a great love of Irish music and mentored by Eugene, Ellie and Desmond O’Leary she developed their unique style of playing traditional Irish dance music with a swing bass. In later years she forged a strong friendship and musical alliance with Colleen Kirby, on piano accordion and together they were a formidable duo, and accompanied many dancers in competition over a long period of time, even playing for Australian Championships.

The Adelaide Academy has had many “homes” - Adelaide, Gawler, North Adelaide, Elizabeth, Walkerville, Whyalla, Kingswood, Oaklands Park, Modbury, Tea Tree Gully, Murray Bridge, but today our headquarters are our studio at 19 Iona Street, Broadview, which we lease from the SA Scouts Association. This very run down building was first taken over by us in 2004, and since that time the transformation has been incredible, with alterations and repairs being made to accommodate our needs along the way. We are indebted to many wonderful people who have given generously of their time and talents to demolish, repair, add to, modernise, paint, air condition, make curtains, donate furniture, and make it the ideal home for our dancing classes and activities. 

The school is a family school, with family ideals and objectives. For nearly 50 years it has offered Irish dance in a safe, nurturing environment, with unconditional support for dancers and their families alike and many hundreds of young girls and boys, and some not so young, have passed through the doors of the Adelaide Academy. Some of these have gone on to become qualified teachers and adjudicators in their own right, others have remained very dear friends, for some we are now teaching their children or grandchildren, and we have so many happy memories of these associations and the good times we have had over such a long period of time.

We are proud of our Irish Heritage and an important objective of the School is to take our Irish Culture to the wider community. We do this by giving of our time to perform at nursing homes; retirement villages; schools; pre-school centres; corporate functions; and cultural events. Our busiest time is St. Patrick’s Day where sometimes up to 5 or 6 groups of dancers, with parents in tow, travel off in different directions to bring this great celebration to many.   

Our teachers are committed to developing the talents of all dancers at all levels, and we strive to nurture the traditions of Irish dance.   The dance, dress and presentation has changed dramatically over the years, to accommodate and reflect changing populations and new styles. The twenty-first century has lent new conventions to Irish dance that would make it unrecognisable to the eighteenth century Dance Masters.  Fake tan, curly wigs, tiaras, heavy make-up and jewellery are as much a part of competitive dancing today as the dance and music itself. One wonders how much further it can evolve!

The dancers in the Adelaide Academy are taught by qualified and highly committed and enthusiastic teachers who share a passion and love for the dance and music of Ireland and work towards achieving the highest possible level from beginners through to senior dancers, whether it is competition or for fun and fitness.

One of the great benefits of Irish dancing is the social scene – the camaraderie between dancers and teachers; the life-long friendships, travel to competition - intrastate, interstate and international; the common bond of love of the dance, and the knowledge that so many people appreciate each performance.   

 Performing Arts

The Performing Arts division of the school was formed in 2005, when we engaged the services of guest teachers to offer
different disciplines of dance, and thereby more fully utilise the studio. The first teacher was Miss Andrea Purcell, and
now firmly established and in charge of the Performing Arts side is Miss Bernadette Mamerow. Open dancers are offered
jazz and tap and junior dancers from age 3 upwards are part of Celtic Kidz with training in movement to music, dance,
song and dance, jazz and tap.  These classes continue to flourish, and dancers play an integral and entertaining part in
the annual Christmas Concert.