INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Irish dancing has been around for centuries. When most people think about it, they probably think of Lord of the Dance or Riverdance. But the traditional form of dancing is much more than that. And you can find a rich history of Irish dancing in Indianapolis at the Richens/Timm Academy of Irish dance.
“John Timm…was a 1993 Senior Men’s World Champion,” said Liz Jones. She’s a TCRG instructor at Richens/Timm. “At the time, he was one of only three men who won the World’s at the Senior Men’s level. So when he came over here to teach in 1994 that was a big deal for us and our school became a lot more competitive.”
Jones goes on to say, “We have a great tradition now of sending a lot of dancers to the world championships every year.”
Richens/Timm is known throughout the world as one of the best Irish dance academies. According to their website, they’ve had 55 Regional Champions, 20 North American Champions, 3 All-Ireland Champions and 2 Senior Men’s World Champions.
But that’s not where their accomplishments end. Over the years, the Richens/Timm dancers have won 41 medals, including two World Championship titles.
The awards are impressive, but the dancers have put in a lot of hours of hard work to get there.
“A tradition like this, a lot of people think we’re folk dancers,” said Jones. “But these girls and boys really are athletes.”
Training to be an Irish dancer isn’t easy.
“My favorite quote is a William Butler Yates quote, and he called Irish dancing ‘The ice of body and the fire of feet,’” said Jones.
Most of the dancers practice every day to keep their leg muscles in shape, not to mention the stamina it takes to perform. Irish routines are typically only 2 to 3 minutes long because of the amount of strength is takes to dance them.
“We don’t use the arms at all,” said Jones. “And the competition steps tend to be even more athletic because of the competition—dancers are always trying to outdo each other.”
Jones was a competitive Irish dancer for years. She knows the work that goes into being competition-ready.
“They train for hours every day and if you look at their leg muscles, you can tell what kind of athletes they are,” said Jones. “You think about what kind of strength it takes to just be able to jump that high in general, much less doing it without using your upper body at all. They have a lot of core strength, but obviously, most of it comes from our legs.”
Margaret and Bridget Kaster come from a long line of Irish dancers. Between the six siblings, all of them have danced for Richens/Timm at one point.
“My grandmother took us and my older siblings to the Indy [Irish] festival the first year, and we saw the Irish dancers dancing there, and we just loved it,” said Margaret. That’s when she first decided she wanted to dance. Today, she’s been Irish dancing for 21 years.
“I train almost every single day. I really don’t take any days off, and I do a lot of cross training on top of it,” she said. “So, running, lifting weights and just trying to make sure that my muscles are as toned as possible and then practicing as much as I can.”
Margaret is ranked 17th in the world in her age group. She’s been to the World Championship stage five times, and this year will be her sixth.
Her younger sister Bridget isn’t far behind —she’s ranked 6th in Mid-America.
“I remember from like being younger was dancing and watching them [older siblings], and enjoying it,” said Bridget. “And just wanting to be like my older siblings, and it was always fun dancing with them at performances and stuff like that.”
The Kaster sisters are just two of the 200 dancers currently enrolled at Richens/Timm. Four of them, including Margaret, will be heading to the World Championships in April. It will be Margaret’s sixth time on a world stage.
“I achieved a goal last year that I never thought I would achieve, and it was medaling at the World’s,” said Margaret. “So, going from that year to this year, I just want to get out there and dance the best I possibly can because you never know how many more years you have left doing it. And since I achieved the goal I wanted to, I just get to go out there and have fun.”
The Richens/Timm dancers will be performing at 18 elementary schools and dancing in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 15th. They will also dance at the Rathskeller on March 17th.
Afterwards, they will prepare for the World Championships happening in North Carolina in April.