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Luck of the Irish dance smiles on Shannon's Kerry Ann King

03/17/2015 11:24 EDT | Updated 05/17/2015 05:12 EDT
Growing up in Shannon, northwest of Quebec City, Kerry Ann King never asked herself why everyone she knew was Irish.

“I just assumed every place was like here — across the street were the Nevilles, down the street were the Kacks and the Corrigans and the Murphys," she said.

"On St. Patrick's Day, even if there was school we were allowed to stay home as long as we dressed in our Sunday best and went to church and welcomed any visitors."

Shannon was settled by Irish immigrants in the early 1800s, and most of those families are descended from the pioneers.

When King was a child, Irish music was everywhere. There were parties and dances and her parents were in high demand – both were accomplished accordion players.

"That was a bit of a problem,” said King.

“There were lots of parties and, when one of them played, the other didn't have a partner!”

Shannon Irish Dancers

The Shannon kids would learn some Irish dances every year to perform in the Shannon Irish Show. It was usually a local who would teach them the steps.

Then the Montreal dance pro Bernadette Short started coming in every year.

In 1996, she finally asked King why the kids only danced once a year for a show, instead of continuing all year-round. 

She suggested they go to a feis, an Irish dance competition.

"So we figured we'd give it a try," said King.

"We practised and the girls did really well – they all came back with medals. So then it was just trying to raise the level every year, getting better.”

As coordinator of an Irish dance troupe, King had to start from zero. She had to find teachers and track down the heeled shoes, leather slippers, and elaborate embroidered dresses that are standard.

She had to figure out how to curl the dancers hair in ringlets, which were de rigueur. Then, the trend went to wigs – and she had to find those, too.

To be eligible for national contests, the girls needed to participate in eight to 10 competitions a year, and that meant King had to get them there.

“I got myself a licence for an 18-seat van. We'd throw the girls in, bring along another parent or two... We went to Boston, Albany, New York, Toronto... They loved it," she said. 

Fixture on the Irish dance scene

The Shannon Irish dancers have been winning medals on the North American dance circuit for two decades now.

This year, there are more than 80 dancers in the troupe, ranging in age from five-year-olds through to 20-somethings.

One of them is headed to the world championships this year.

And although King officially handed over the reins in 2010, last year, when local organizers hosted their first feis ever, she was asked to chair the committee.

The Vieux-Québec Feis was a huge success. Another is scheduled for this fall. 

The Shannon Irish dancers were front and centre this past weekend at the 49th annual Shannon Irish Show.

And King was front row centre as a volunteer.

“For me, it's just like I'm home," she said. 

"The accordion gets going and the girls are there with their dresses…The clickety-clack of the shoes… It's magical!”  

In conversation with . . .

In this series, Quebec AM profiles people in the English communities in Quebec's regions. Some of the names you know, some may be new to you, but all of them have a story to tell.

If you have suggestions for future profiles, contact Susan Campbell. 

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