By Jill Nossa
It’s that time of year when everyone with even a smidgen of familial connections to the Emerald Isle wears some form of green in honor of the big holiday on March 17, taking pride in their Irish heritage. Around the island, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with parades, dinners and dances throughout the month of March and helping to complete these celebrations and keep the culture and traditions alive are Irish step dancers, who work hard all year long.
“The kids love it; they can’t get enough,” said Kathleen Natter, director of Ryan Irish Dance Academy in Greenvale, whose performance team is booked around St. Patrick’s Day with parades, dinners and other performances.
“I tell them, ‘you’re mine in March’ so they know what they are getting into,” said Natter.
Kicking off the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, the team was a part of the Mineola parade on Sunday, March 6, and performed at two Irish dinners the same night. The following weekend, they held three performances at Roosevelt Field Mall and will participate in the Glen Cove parade for the ninth year on Sunday, March 20.
The Glen Cove resident, former lead dancer of Riverdance and champion Irish dancer founded the dance school in 2005 and has been teaching students of all levels the intricacies of Irish dancing for the past 10 years. The studio first opened in Floral Park in April 2006, then moved to its current location at the Wheatley Plaza in Greenvale in late 2012. She has about 35 students, 18 of whom are members of a performance team that travels to festivals, street fairs, nursing homes, local fundraisers and weddings throughout the year. Over the winter break in February, they even performed at Walt Disney World in Florida.
Her students come for all over, including Port Washington, Garden City and Queens and practice for about four and half hours a week at the studio, learning all of the traditional Irish step dancing in addition to original dances that Natter choreographs, set to the music of Lord of the Dance and Riverdance. She is a TCRG certified Irish dance teacher and because of her background, she said her dance school is unique from others on Long Island.
“We are the only school that does the level of performance that we do,” she said. “Other schools only train for competitions and stick to the traditional steps.”
Also, Ryan Irish Dance Academy holds an annual recital, which is not common for Irish dance schools.
Originally from Brisbane, Australia, Natter has Irish roots and has been dancing since age 3; her older siblings were already dancing by the time she was born.
“I was literally born into it,” she said.
Natter moved to New York in 2000 when Riverdance opened on Broadway; she then earned the lead part in the troop during the national tour. After five years with the company, she left and soon after decided to teach.
“When I left the show, I had all of these exciting things checked off my list, but I didn’t have a goal for what was next,” said Natter.”I genuinely enjoy dancing itself; the fact that it is physically challenging, I find enjoyable. It doesn’t feel like a hobby to me; it is a part of me.”
She found the spot in Floral Park and took in students with no experience, essentially starting from scratch.
“When performing, I never got nervous, but being a dance teacher was a whole new level of pressure,” she said. “Being a part of their journey, from not being able to put one foot in front of the other to becoming champions…you can’t put a price on that.”
She said she has her dance teacher to thank for instilling the love of dance in her, as well as inspiring her to become a teacher.
“Teaching is a different type of satisfaction; my students are like my babies,” said Natter, who has a 4-year-old son and another child on the way. “I hope that I might be as important to them as my teacher was to me.”
Visit www.ryanacademy.com for more information.