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Catskills dance camp blazes trail for young competitors

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Paul Keating

The O’Neill House rests on a 162-acre campus nestled at the foot of the verdant hills of the Catskill Mountains in the Irish village of East Durham. Two and half hours north of New York City, the family-owned resort is like many others in the area trying to keep up its appeal to Irish immigrants and their Irish-American families as a vacation venue. It is as far from Broadway or the Point Depot as one could imagine, but if the efforts of an enterprising young couple who met performing in “Riverdance” continue to have success operating the first-ever Irish dance summer camp, called Camp Rince Ceol, the chasm between old and new in East Durham will be somewhat diminished.

Camp Rince Ceol (Dance and Music) combines the adventure and fun of a summer sleep-away camp for children from 9-17 with intense instruction in Irish step dancing for those dancers who wish to sharpen their skills for championship or performance dance. In only its third year, the brainchild of Sheila Ryan and Tony Davoren, Camp Rince Ceol is an instant phenomenon, having sold out its five one-week sessions (July 14 through Aug. 16) back in April, enrolling 415 youngsters with a waiting list of 72 champing at the bit to garner a last-minute slot.

The couple, who are both 31, embarked on the project after leaving “Riverdance” in 1999 when Ryan, a dancer in the Lee Company touring group, suffered a foot injury that wouldn’t allow her to perform without risking further damage, and Davoren, a singer in Anuna, the choral group in the show, sought other musical challenges.

Maybe it was fate, but the pair complemented one another so well that their professional enterprise is now further entwined by their marriage in January and their diverse backgrounds help ensure this novel venture. Ryan, one of the more successful dancers to come out of the Donny Golden School (Jean Butler was a contemporary who helped recruit her into “Riverdance”) went from the world of competitive dancing to the world’s finer stages with Cherish the Ladies, the Chieftains and “Riverdance.” Her parents, Kathleen and the late Malachy Ryan, encouraged her dancing career and, as ceili dance teachers from the Gaelic League and their own Thomondgate Dance troupe out on Long Island, offered inspiration.

Davoren was steeped in the well of traditional folk music through his parents, Billy and Roz, who operated the Rocky Road folk club in England before resettling in Hollywood, Co. Wicklow. He is recognized as one of the up and coming Irish talents as a singer and bouzouki player.

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