By Jacqueline Hogge, Tuam Herald
Five, six, seven, eight is the universal count in for those who get their groove on line dancing and Ballyglunin’s Palm Tree is the place to be for anyone interested in honing their moves.
A group of ten ladies are treading the boards on a weekly basis under the tutelage of Galway based dancing teacher Martin O’Connell, who is a self-confessed line dancing addict for over 20 years.
Martin and his teaching partner will take their skills to the Far East later this year when they travel to Japan to bring the wonder of dance to a whole new audience.
“I discovered line dancing back in the 1990s when it was a huge craze,” explains Martin.
“I had previously learned how to dance from my older sister Dympna who used to bring me to Seapoint in the 1960s and kicked my ankles a lot. Fast forward to 1994 and I found myself in the Alley nightclub in Galway being taught by Bonnie and Brian Dolan who taught hundreds of people throughout the county over the 18 months that line dancing was huge.
“I fell in love with it so when Bonnie and Brian finished their classes as the craze was dying out I decided I would teach it myself. There was still a group of about 30 of us fanatics who formed the Galway Line Dancing Association and I’ve been teaching ever since.”
The group of ladies at the Palm Tree hall from Abbeyknockmoy, Athenry, Claregalway, Corofin, Milltown and Tuam and have a choice of two weekly classes at the Ballyglunin venue. Martin also takes classes at venues in Cloonacauneen, Oughterard, Salthill and Inverin.
“Most of my students are from active retirement groups and unfortunately it’s very hard to get the men out on the floor, but I run barn dance classes for the corporate sector too and that’s bringing line dancing to a younger audience,” said Martin, who himself is 71.
“We were on the verge of a major line dancing comeback a few years ago when Garth Brooks was supposed to play in Croke Park. I think the the threat remains strong if he ever does come back and it would bring line dancing to a whole new generation.”
Martin and his teaching partner Mary McInerney, will travel to Japan in October to bring the magic of line dancing to a new audience.
“This is actually our third year going over to a place called Sanda city which is in the outskirts of Osaka,”he said.
“I had a Japanese lady coming to my class in Galway a few years ago who was visiting her daughter who was married to a man in Galway and she asked us to come over to teach her friends. The first year we went over I went and learned some basic Japanese to get me by. The dance moves are universal but I wanted to be able to do the count in Japanese but when I started to count, they all shouted, “No, no, five, six, seven, eight” as this was what they’d seen on the YouTube tutorials that they’d been using before we got there.
“We’re heading over in October for 15 days where we will have a group of 50 students. The age profile is broadly similar to here although some of the Japanese students would be younger, there are a few in their 30s. It’s a remarkable country and culture and they simply adore line dancing as much as we do.”
Feedback from the Palm Tree students is all very positive and encouraging with the majority of the ladies involved espousing the many benefits of their weekly classes.
“I’ve been coming here for almost three years no and the best part is you don’t need a partner, you just take to the floor and enjoy yourself while learning something new,” said Mary Farragher, who travels from her home in Milltown.
“The other great thing about it is that we don’t know each other that well so we don’t site here gossiping, we’re all here for the dancing.”
Martin said many of his students have noticed improved health since starting the classes and they’ve also made new friends along the way.
“We have a lot of fun over the two hour classes, with a break for a cup of tea and a biscuit half way through,” he said.
“Some of my students are widowed and others just love the chance to get out of the house to do something different, so it’s a great outlet for people.”
Elizabeth Potter from Abbeyknockmoy said the classes had given her confidence to dance in public.
“It keeps us fit and I love the music, which is all country, and it means that when I got social dancing I have the confidence to take to the floor, which I wouldn’t have done before I started these classes,” she said.
Martin says he will continue teaching as long as his students retain their enthusiasm for line dancing.
“It keeps me young and I love what I do and I’m lucky that I’ve met so many wonderful people along the way who share my passion,” he added.
Pictured are at back Catherine Woods, Anbally, Mary Farragher, Milltown, Teresa Conway, Corofin, Margaret Kearney, Claregalway, YHvonne Whelan, Corofin, Mary Ruane, Milltown, Mary Comer, Tuam, Maria Horan, Claregalway.
Front: Elizabeth Potter, Abbeyknockmoy, Martin O’Connell and Muriel Hayden, Athenry.