Monday, July 21, 2014

Irish Dancing in Kazakhstan

Who knew that Irish dancing (the Michael Flatley version) would be so popular in Central Asia? There is an Irish dancing group call Altyn Batyr, which is rather famous in these parts. It is based in Karaganda, a city a few hours to the southeast of Astana.

One of the group's dancers teaches Irish dancing in Astana, which I found out through the school's administrative assistant, who was taking lessons there. Excited, I signed up.

I pay 10,000 tenge a month (about $60 or so), and we have two lessons a week at 90 minutes each lesson. I have learned that Irish dancing is not something you can pick up quickly – it's July now, and I started attending in October, and I'm not yet good enough to show anyone! – but it's also fun and good exercise (so much jumping!)

My British friend joined also, which was lucky for me because the administrative assistant stopped going and my Russian just isn't good enough to get by. Almost good enough, but not quite there.
We struggled getting hard Irish dance shoes and ended up ordering them from the UK.

Through class we learned that members of the Altyn Batyr group would perform at O'hara's Irish restaurant in town on Sunday, 16 March, the day before St. Patrick's Day. We informed others and reserved a table. Yes, it was 10 pm on a school night, but – Irish dancing!!

We were served free green beer when we arrived, but that beer was not good (it probably was Efes, a popular beer here that resembles Budweiser), so I ordered a Guiness.

This restaurant is quite fancy and quite expensive, but for an evening that including live Irish dancing, it was reasonable (especially since I didn't eat).

The Irish dancing was spectacular! It was hard to get a good spot to watch, since this was a restaurant and not a concert hall, but I managed to find a spot in the crowd from where I could tiptoe and watch. They performed several small pieces, interspersed with breaks. They really were amazing! I've watched Michael Flatley's shows on DVD plenty of times, plus I once saw “Lord of the Dance” performed in Atlanta, Georgia—by a group that wasn't very good. This group was so much better. And, being a Michael Flatley fan, I recognized almost all of their dances. It might have been nice if they'd done some non-Flatley Irish dancing (yes, the Irish did dance before he came along!), but it was still great!

At one point, our dance instructor introduced us to one of the dancers (I think the main dancer), who was so excited to meet me (a foreigner!) but seemed to mistake me for Irish, and asked if I felt at home here. I just smiled politely and said I was American, not Irish. But I doubt this bar very closely resembles Ireland!

Overall, a wonderful evening and I hope it will happen again next year!

A British friend stopped by this restaurant the next day – 17 March – and he was unable to convince the wait staff there that it was St. Patrick's Day. They were quite sure that the previous day, 16 March, had been St. Patrick's Day.

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