The lively lilt of Celtic tunes and the rapid syncopated steps of dance shoes hitting the floorboards echoed at the Haran School of Irish Dance last week.
Located in the heart of the Perry District, Haran School is Spokane’s oldest certified Irish dance school and will host Spokane’s first Irish dance competition this weekend.
While the event isn’t open to the public, the school’s owner/operator Caitlin Trusler hopes Saturday’s Feis (pronounced fesh) at the Falls and Sunday’s Deirdre Abeid Memorial Feis will spotlight the dance form brought to America by Irish settlers during the Colonial period.
A feis is a traditional Gaelic arts and culture festival and the term is commonly used to refer to Irish dance competitions. The upcoming two-day event in Spokane offers dancers a chance to perform their dances twice throughout the weekend.
“My mother, Deirdre Abeid, founded the Haran School in Kettle Falls (Washington), in 1990,” Trusler said. “The Woodland Theatre needed to fill a little time between acts. Mom had learned Irish dance in San Francisco, so she took the kids of the cast members aside and taught them an Irish dance.”
The well-received performance led Abeid to open the school.
“Haran was her maiden name,” Trusler said. “Her mother was born in Ireland.”
Trusler and her sister, Claire Worley, were 8 and 6 when their mother opened the studio.
“I was terrible!” Trusler said. “It took me three competitions before I got a medal, but I was determined.”
She became a certified Irish Dance instructor and after moving to Spokane, she opened the second Haran school. The operated downtown and in the Valley before moving to the Perry District in 2005
Her sister took over the Kettle Falls location after their mother died in 2004.
Trusler had hoped to host the event in 2020 and again 2021, but had to cancel due to the pandemic.
“We have about 70 students,” she said. “We had a rough time during COVID, but we’re still here!”
Students from studios across the nation have registered for the competition.
“We have dancers coming from Pennsylvania and Denver,” Trusler said. “Dancing in this feis allows you to move up and compete in higher levels.”
That’s exactly what Kaitlin Kelly, 16, is aiming for.
“I’m hoping to qualify for the world championships,” she said.
At a recent practice, Kelly wore an elaborately embroidered sequined dress.
The fancy dresses are worn in solo competitions, while traditional studio dresses are worn for figure dances, which are performed in teams.
Kelly started Irish dance at 7.
“I fell in love with it,” she said. “I practiced a lot.”
Trusler said feis costuming has grown more elaborate over the years.
“They wear enormous wigs, as well,” she said. “Solo costumes with crystal embroidery can cost $2,000.”
Ellie West, 15, also wore a glittering dress. She said she started Irish dance at 4 or 5.
“I saw it on TV,” she said. “I started dancing and my mom saw me and said, ‘You want to do that, don’t you?’
“I enjoy learning new steps. It’s hard, but it’s fun hard.”
“People don’t understand how athletic Irish dance is,” Trusler said.
The school offers Celtic movement classes for children as young as 3 and 4.
“At 5, they begin to learn the actual steps,” Trusler said.
Dancers from the Haran School of Irish Dance have excelled in regional, national and world competitions and the Haran Irish Dancers enjoy performing at community events.
The school has a long history with Spokane-area Celtic bands, including Floating Crowbar, Broken Whistle and An Dochas, which is led by Mellad Abeid, the son of the school’s founder. This offers a unique opportunity to collaborate and create one-of-a-kind choreography and performances.
Hosting the Feis at the Falls and Deirdre Abeid Memorial Feis has long been Trusler’s dream and she hopes to make it an annual event.
“I’m very excited to finally be able to do this and honor my mom’s memory,” she said.
Cindy Hval can be reached at email@example.com