Lord of the (Irish) dance
SHAWN Silver loves Irish dancing so much it's infectious. Just watching him stepping, skipping and high-kicking makes me want to dance. With him.
"Hey Lismore!" says Shawn.
"If you ever wanted to try your hand (or feet) at Irish dancing, now's your chance."
Shawn is from St John's, Newfoundland in Canada. He grew up there, on the wild eastern seaboard, dreaming of becoming a dancer.
He made his dream a reality by developing his expertise in the dance, forming a company called iDance with affiliates in lands as far-flung as his native Canada, Iceland, Portugal, now Australia and next stop China.
You know it's something pretty special when he tells you his tours are sponsored by the Canadian Government's 'Department of Intangibles'.
Last year he was sponsored to perform at the annual Australian Celtic Festival at Glen Innes. His performance, and expansive generosity in sharing his skills offstage with young and old alike, made a deep impression on festival organisers and this year he's been invited back to perform and promote traditional Celtic dance and culture.
His mission here is to "high-kick the spirit of Celtic dance into Australia" in partnership with the Cape Byron Celtic Dance Company.
Among his many performances he has danced with Michael Flatley's massively successful Riverdance and with the Magic of Ireland show, as well as his own production, Celtic Fire.
Shawn spends a couple of months in each place he visits, sharing the culture of the dance and making connections with the people.
"That's how culture evolves, and it seems Lismore is an energy centre - I always get attracted to those sorts of places."
Shawn describes Irish dance as an ancient form of art that has morphed into a highly athletic form - in fact, he says, there's a sense in which it's also a sport, requiring strength, timing and precision.
"It's considered a national treasure in the land of its birth, where it's an ancient tradition. It's only become new again since Riverdance.
"Historically it precedes Christianity - some of the dances are so ancient the Druids would have been doing them. But when the Anglo-Saxons started their attempted takeover of Ireland they announced that Celtic dancing was too provocative, and succeeded in restricting it.
"It's the same thing that happened when the Anglo-Saxons encountered hula dancing in Hawaii, and bellydancing in the Middle East.
"In 1900, the Irish Gaelic league decided to revive the art and started collecting and preserving the old dances.
"I believe it's really important for us to share what we do, especially elements of our cultural heritage... In the past, artists, dancers and poets were important to the communities they visited, taking their form of art with them. After all, what are we without the art around us?"
Not only does Irish dancing keep Shawn radiant in health - he credits it with saving his life.
"I had a massive car accident in the winter of 2008, on an icy road in Newfoundland," he recalls.
"I fractured two vertebrae and was in a coma. When I woke up I didn't know who I was or what had happened. I thought it was 1998 and I was still a stockbroker.
"I didn't even know who the guy was who was holding my hand - turns out it was my life partner, Bruce!
"I worked with a head injury specialist for a year and gradually recovered.
"The physical damage would have been much worse if my spine and legs had not been as strong as they are. My back muscles held everything in place, and I believe that core strength came from dancing."
Anyone who wants to release their inner Celt is encouraged to go along to a series of master classes at Bexhill Hall next Tuesday and Wednesday, April 23-24, from 4-8pm.
Children and adults, beginners and experienced dancers, all will be warmly welcomed. Phone 0487 190 647 or go to idanceaustralia.com to book.
"Everyone who's ever wanted to try Irish dancing should come along," says Shawn.
"Anyone can do it - and if we find a great dancer we'll take them with us to dance onstage at Glen Innes."