Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Surprise of the Appalachian Festival: Modern Irish Dancing

The 8th annual Appalachian Festival featured various acts from all walks of life.  There were biographical films, blue-grass bands and even a pipe and drum band. One act that stood head and shoulders above the rest was a modern Irish dance group named Joe Duffey Dance who was accompanied by the music group Old Pitch. They performed twice during the festival at 12:50 p.m. in the Folkways Tent and later on as a guest of Old Pitch when they performed their own set at 2:20 p.m. on the Compton Stage.

Joe Duffey Dance is made up of 4 members: Hannah Kuhn, Laura Hoelzer, Jesse Lindenkohl, and Joe Duffey. Both the members and the dance company itself are relatively young. The Appalachian Festival was actually their first paid gig that they've received. The group is based out in Washington D.C. where Joe is a dance teacher and choreographer. Today at the festival they performed about 7 dances. What they performed wasn't typical Irish dance though. Joe calls what they did Modern Irish Dance, which is more of Irish dance and a combination of styles such as Tap and Clogging. During the performance Joe said he was “Taking Irish dance and throwing all the rules out of the window.” And their performance showed just that.

Normally during Irish dance, the dancers themselves are stoic and they rarely show emotion. Joe and the other dancers were the complete opposite. They had big smiles and displayed joy while they performed. Unlike traditional Irish dance they at times, moved their arms away from their sides, using sweeping arm movements to add to the performance. The dances that they performed all varied in one way or another. In some dances all four would be performing at the same time, driving home a powerful step that rocked the stage. At other times two of females would be on stage wearing soft shoes that allowed for a more graceful dance. The soft shoes gave the dancers more freedom and the ability to perform large kicks and jumps that the other dances didn't have.

Each dancer was given their own time to shine during their set time. They weren't merely backup dancers to Joe. Hanna and Laura preformed a beautiful soft step dance and Jesse wowed the crowd during her solos in the group dances. The energy of the dancers was infectious; everyone in the crowd fed on their energy. The crowd was amazed by the fast steps and how technical the dances were. “My knees don’t even bend," laughed John Dixon as the dancers continued to put on an amazing show. The stamina of the dancers was also marveled by the crowd. The breaks in between each dance weren't that long. In fact the breaks would have been shorter, but the stage had to be wiped down because of the rain. John’s wife Sarah said to her husband “You’d think they’d need more of a rest than that, they been going for awhile.” When the set was done they thanked the crowd and they even gave a quick dance lesson to two little girls who were seated in the front row.

The music provided by Old Pitch was perfect at all times. The music by Old Pitch beautifully accompanied the dancing that took place on stage. During Old Pitch’s set, Joe Duffey Dance did two dances to music played by Old Pitch. Unfortunately the weather had changed from just a light rain to heavy rain and some strong winds, but both the dancers and band powered through with their performance. 

When speaking with Joe after their own set, he explained that he not only wants to work with more people, but that he wants to work with more diverse people. He sees his dance company working with more types of percussive dance and he even has a meeting with a belly dancer lined up. Joe Duffey Dance brought something a little different to the Appalachian Festival and there difference was welcomed by mostly everyone there. They brought energy, excitement, and talent to an already amazing and diverse festival.

Go to for more information on the company and to see which events they have lined up next.

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