Carole and Tricia Scanlon have recently celebrated 50 Years of Scanlon’s School of Irish Dance. The Scanlon sisters have produced countless World Champions over the years. Born in Birmingham to Irish parents, they are ‘Birmingham born with an Irish Soul’, lifting Scanlon’s to the World Stage for over fifty years.
The oldest of five, Carole Scanlon and her siblings John, Tricia, Sheila and Brendan danced for Patsy Kiernan at the Legion of Mary and across parishes in Birmingham:
“At the time Irish dancing was in school halls and it was such good craic. We danced for Eileen Kelly in Kings Heath and Mauretta Armstrong, who was the mother of Irish dance at the time and taught at St. Francis’ in Handsworth; the central hub for feiseanna’
“We didn’t have cars at the time or telephones, so arrangements were made in person. If we had a competition in Coventry, we would meet at 6am and get on the coach.
“It was a big deal for us to go to Coventry at the time; if I got to Coventry I was doing well. We would catch the buses to feiseanna with our hair in rags.
Scanlon’s School of Irish Dance
“I set up Scanlon’s School of Irish Dancing at eighteen. Parents dropped their children down to the lessons every Saturday and every Thursday and then we would take children to local feiseanna.
In the eighties Scanlon’s started going over to Ireland for the World Championships: “From the very beginning for the lads and the girls it was the excitement of going on a trip without parents and staying in hotels. In the early days we didn’t take it as seriously. I wanted to do well but we really did enjoy it”.
Success did not come overnight for Scanlon’s: “We went for ten years and when there were three places; we got fourth, eight places; we got ninth and two places; we got third. For ten years we kept narrowly missing out, but we kept going back and battling for a place. We then went to Limerick and finally won second place and we didn’t look back.
“As the next generation of dancers were coming up, we started training figure teams and my ideas and choreography got better and better. The dancers were better trained because of my experience and my sister also began to teach alongside me”.
“The big thing was music. Without music we don’t have dance. As dancers we are the interpreters of music. If you haven’t got a musician, you have lost your rod. We realised you could provide your own music at the World Championships. We had Chris Stapleton who had the original Ceol Castle, and Dr. John the fiddle player, Joe Molloy the banjo player, Jimmy Montgomery from Glasgow and Kevin Joyce from Galway. We would take the whole package to the World Championships which we eventually won in 1996”.
“The 2000s was a landmark era for our school and we received our first World Solo Title. You don’t just get that overnight. We had been trying for this title for almost a decade and our dancer Angela Crowley kept coming up short in the top three until she won the first World Title for Scanlon’s. You don’t know if it’s a pleasure or a relief when you finally win”.
Over the years Scanlon’s hosted their own school feiseanna: “The Scanlon Feis started in 1983 and we have had hundreds of people competing. It continues to bring hundreds of people to Birmingham from Ireland and Scotland every year for the whole weekend. People have built close and lasting friendships through our school”.
Covid-19 and lockdown
Scanlon’s School were preparing for a huge year of celebration in 2020: “We were going to the World Championship for a joint celebration; it was fifty years of Scanlon’s School and fifty years of World Championships. Then the pandemic hit, and we had to lock everything up; there was no teaching or dancing.
“We recently attended our first World Championships in three years in Belfast. Alliyah O’Hare won, and Ciaran Coyle came third. We were placed in almost everything we entered. We did really well considering we hadn’t competed in three years”.
At seventy years of age, Carole Scanlon shows no sign of slowing down:
“Mother nature tells me my bones are slowing me down, but my head is still busy. Scanlon’s school will continue. I have a great team of teachers. We all have our own job and compliment what each other does. Scanlon’s school is not going anywhere apart from the top.
“Irish dancing is not all about champions. Champions are few and far between. Every little pair of feet who walks through our doors has their own little talent.
“There’s always dancers of every level of ability and talent. The talented ones will stand out more but hard work will beat talent if talent doesn’t work as hard”.
As well as teaching dance, Carole has been a publican at Scanlon’s providing the craic for the past two decades:
“I opened Scanlon’s (Pub) twenty years ago. It was an overnight decision; I’ve never made a thoughtful decision in my life. I am here at Scanlon’s all the time. I don’t leave the building between the bar, private functions, and teaching dance.”
Carole and Tricia are already busy preparing for their next World Championship in Canada in 2023.
And before then, Scanlon’s School of Irish Dance performed on The Irish Music and Culture Stage at Páirc Festival 2022, at the New Irish Centre in Kings Heath, Birmingham!