Dawn Schauman Brings Traditional Dances
From Ireland to the Space Coast
By Marissa Pietrobono
Many in Brevard have become accustomed to seeing Irish dancing shows thanks to Dawn Rondeau Schauman, the instructor for the Rondeau School of Irish Dance. You are bound to see the dancers perform during the week of St. Patrick’s Day, especially at Meg O’ Malley’s where the Rondeau School dancers perform annually — a tradition the Dawn started back in 1994 when she was in her early 20s dancing under her mother’s teachings. If you haven’t seen them in action and still are fuzzy on what Irish dancing looks like, you can reference the televised performances of Riverdance, in which the name Michael Flatley may ring a bell.
Irish dancers are stoic from the waist up, keeping their shoulders back, their backs straight, faces forward and arms stationary and firm at their sides while their legs and feet do all the show-stopping work, wowing audiences with the rapid speed of which their legs and feet move. They give audiences an eye-catching show with a dancing style that began in Ireland, and references of the early history of Irish dancing date back as far as two thousand years.
Dawn keeps the dancing style thriving here in Brevard, largely in part thanks to her mother, also an Irish dancing teacher, who taught Dawn and encouraged her to keep the tradition alive since she was four years old.
“My mother came over from Dublin, Ireland and taught me and my siblings while we were growing up. We moved to Florida and she became the first Irish dancing teacher in the state. As we grew into adulthood, my sister Chanda started teaching locally here at Holy Name of Jesus Church. I got married, had kids, and when my oldest son Macintyre was 5 years old I took over teaching. That was in the mid-90’s and I started with around seven students — definitely under ten. Now I have a full class of 50 students.”
All in the Irish Family
Teaching runs in Dawn’s family. Her mother Kathleen continues to teach Irish dance in Boca Raton, and is joined to help teach every week by Dawn’s son Macintyre. Her aunt and her cousin both teach in Texas and her niece Whitney, a national champion dancer and world medal holder, teaches in Chicago. “It started with me wanting to teach my own children to learn to dance and expanded from there. I love what I do — what motivates me is being able to teach kids self-worth, patience, dedication and most of all to believe in themselves, all through dancing. It is an enduring sport with many rewards. I believe that once a dancer, always a dancer.”
Dawn’s children have certainly learned they have a gift for the art from their mother. Macintyre has won numerous awards and titles, including winning the Oireachtas twice, placing 7th at Nationals and 15th at the Worlds — all incredible feats for Irish dancing competitors. Her daughter Casey is also a champion dancer and famed show dancer since the age of 5. Dawn’s youngest son Keegan was also taught Irish dancing at a young age, but found his talent was more prominent in soccer and basketball.
Dancing Their Way To The Top
There are different levels of competition in Irish Dancing. The first contest dancers compete in is called a Feis, which is held for beginning dancers in their first years. They win their way up to be able to compete in the Oireachtas, then Nationals and then the Worlds’ competitions. They must also win their way to advancing their titles. They are labeled starting as a Beginner Dancer, Advanced Beginner, Novice, Prizewinner, Preliminary and then Champion Dancer.
Dancers also earn their way to advancement in the costumes and shoes they wear. Beginning dancers usually wear just a black skirt and white blouse. Moving up the ranks they receive their class costume, which represents the specific color and seam of their dance school. Advancing from there means they get their solo dress — a vibrantly and beautifully designed long sleeve dress that comes above the knee to show the movements of the legs and feet. Solo dresses can come used or custom made and run anywhere from $500 to $2,500 and up.
All dancers begin with soft shoes called “ghillies” for girls and “reel” shoes for boys. Ghillies are black lace up shoes that are similar to ballet shoes. They are very light and make no audible clicking sounds. The reel shoes for boys however are black leather shoes, more similar to jazz shoes, and do have a hard heel for tapping sounds. Once they learn specific dances, they can advance to their hard shoes or “jig” shoes, which have fiberglass on the bottom to make the tapping sound that comes from the rapid movements of their feet clicking the ground and their heels. The fiberglass causes the tapping sound to be loud without making the shoes too heavy, as the dancers lift their legs high into the air.
Trips To The Emerald Isle
Every five or six years, Dawn offers her dancers the travel opportunity of a lifetime. She organizes a two-week excursion to Ireland for her dancers to travel and experience the culture of which their dancing comes. They usually know about five years in advance to begin planning and saving financially for their journey. The first trip with her dancers was in 2005 and the second was in 2011. This summer, Dawn has enough dancers going that the maximum number to fill their tour bus has been reached. “It really is an amazing experience for them to be able to witness first-hand where their sport originated, and for many of them to see where their ancestors are from. We do a tour of some of the most scenic and popular destinations of Ireland: Dublin, the Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Castle, Giant’s Causeway, the Ring of Kerry and more. They get to dance but it is more impromptu at pubs and other places, no competitions. They are there to enjoy themselves and get a feel for the homeland of their dancing.”
You can see the Rondeau School of Irish Step Dancers perform this St. Patrick’s Day, March 17 at Meg O’ Malley’s, located at 812 E. New Haven Ave., in Downtown Melbourne.
For inquiries about other performances, to book shows or find out about classes, you can reach Dawn Rondeau Schauman at (321) 951-8882.