It is not uncommon for Irish dance to take place outside of Ireland. Over the years, Celtic Life International has profiled many Irish dance studios based in Canada, the United States, and throughout parts of western Europe. However, the reach of the ancient and beloved Celtic art goes even further than that.
Nestled in Bucharest, Romania, dancer Mara Cernat has been bringing Irish dance to the Balkans for over a decade.
Her love of Celtic culture began in 2005, with the release of Irish folk-rock band The Corrs’ album Home.
“I was smitten, and I decided that there needed to be a way to dance to that music,” shares the 32-year-old via email. “This was before YouTube was a thing, so I had scarce access to Irish dance videos. I did, however, find an Irish dancer’s blog with a written description of how to do Jump 23s, Skip 23s, and sidestep. That was all the Irish dance information I could get my hands on at the time.”
Cernat spent the next four years studying the steps thoroughly before fully committing to a dancing career. Today, she focuses much of her energy on teaching dance at her studio, the STEYsha School of Irish Dance, which she founded in 2011.
“I passed my TCRG (World Irish Dance Association) exam in 2014 and I have been teaching continuously ever since. There was no Irish dance in Romania when I discovered it. I had to wait for four more years before someone started organizing a once/twice-a-year workshop with a non-resident teacher. There was a handful of us who would keep training in between workshops, but, without proper instruction, we picked up a few bad habits.
“When I opened my school, I took it upon myself to help grow future generations of Irish dancers in Romania,” she continues. I dance to shape others. I keep learning new things so that I can teach my students how to dance and to educate people here on the richness and uniqueness of our dance style. Irish dance is really a niche art form in this part of the world. We have created our own world within STEYsha and we all dance to share this identity with each other. I dance to keep fit and to stay on top of my game, but I always tell my dancers that because they dance more than me, their minimal target should be to be at least a bit better than I am.”
Currently, STEYsha is the only Irish dance school in Romania. They offer a variety of classes, from traditional to more modern styles.
“There is a big modern movement in Irish dancing nowadays and I try and follow along. But there are certain modern movements that don’t fit well with Irish dance. I pick only what I feel flows well with my own personal style. Usually, my students get good marks in the traditional set dance competitions, however, so there is definitely a traditional influence in our school style that shines through.”
Although rewarding, Cernat admits that her work is not without its share of challenges.
“I am the only Irish dance teacher in the whole of Romania, and I don’t see this changing for another few years at least. This seems like a real business advantage, but I don’t need the whole country on my shoulders. There is a lot of work to be done to make Irish dancing more visible here and I am the only ambassador of our art form. Even with online tools I still feel quite isolated at times, and I truly wish I had an on-site peer to share the experience and the workload with.”
Cernat continues to think positively, focusing on ways that she can improve for her students. For 2022, she plans to work on growing STEYsha at a local level.
“We will do as we did last year: strengthening the already existing community within the school with closed-circuit celebrations during class time. I am not worried about not having any projects, as they always pop up. I am, however, aiming at increasing our visibility locally and nationally in any way that I can.”