Agostina Reati was just eight-years-old when she fell in love with Irish dancing. Originally from Buenos Aires, Agostina first took an interest in Irish dance while watching her older sister, Romina, perform in a showcase. She remembers clearly how she was “shocked” when she first heard the mesmerising Celtic beats of Irish dancing.
“I loved how the rhythm sounded,” she said.
Romina had been studying textile design in college and was learning about Celtic knots when she first became interested in Irish culture. She started going to Celtic festivals and community gatherings and this is where she first saw an Irish dance performance. She was so captivated that she googled the nearest Irish dancing schools and decided to take some classes.
Seeing Romina dance made a huge impression on young Agostina, who remembers that one of her teachers “brought back [stage] one of the traditional dresses, an old one, but it was the first in Argentina, so it was really cool”.
From that moment on, Agostina knew she wanted to dance.
“It just got in my head, I don’t know why,” she said.
Agostina started attending classes when she was 10-years-old, at the Irish Feet Irish dance company in Buenos Aires. A few years later she began competing with Celtic Argentina.
Irish dance is extremely popular in the South American region. The South American Irish Dance Association (SAIDA) was established in 2016 “to foster, promote and regulate Irish dancing in South America”. SAIDA hosts the Oireachtas Rince An Meiriceá Theas – South American Championships annually.
“It’s huge – the Irish community and cultural events,” Agostina said.
However, according to Agostina, sometimes South Americans can view Ireland as more of a fantasy.
“Game of Thrones and the Lord of the Rings are associated with it, and people will go through that door instead of looking to real Irish culture, and then they find Irish dancing and they’re like ‘oh, wow.’”
While more and more young people are picking up Irish dance in South America, competition is tough.
“It’s very hard for someone, especially if they’re adults, to get to the point of competing and preparing for competition. So, the elite is very small, but there are many dancers,” she said.
Agostina knew by the age of 13 that she was “definitely leaving Argentina at some point”.
When she was 15, during her quinceañera year, Agostina was already discussing where in Ireland she could move to, with her teachers advising her on the top Irish dancing schools here.
“I think between the teachers at home, they decided that I should go to Hession because it was in a place more accessible,” she said.
Hession School of Dance is a leading Irish dance school in Galway. Founded in 1963 by Celine Hession, the school is now run by her daughter Gemma Carney.
In 2017 Agostina, aged 19, moved to Galway to pursue her dream of becoming an accomplished Irish dancer.
Hession became the perfect fit for her as she has been training hard ever since, under the instruction of her teachers – Gemma Carney, Anne-Marie Keaney and Kincaid Stringer.
“The way they take it all in, the rhythm, and they try to show it to you by singing it to you – there’s so much expression,” she said.
“I think that’s the difference between Hession and other Irish dancing schools – that they pay more attention to rhythm and what’s high and what’s low and even when you can’t hear people, even when it’s light shoes and you can’t hear the sound of your feet, but you can still understand the highs and the lows and the comas and the full-stops of the dance.”
While Agostina said she “feels quite local now,” when she first moved to Galway, the drastic change to the weather was a shock for her.
“It was so windy. It was the middle of the summer, everyone was taking it all in and drinking at Spanish Arch, and I was wearing a woollen jacket like it was wintertime,” she said.
Agostina was the first South American Irish dancer to compete at the World Irish Dancing Championships in 2019 and she won the prestigious Aisling Award for this accomplishment.
The Aisling Award is generally awarded to overseas Irish dancers from Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe.
“I suppose I feel proud, but I don’t think I understand fully how much they [other South American dancers] might be looking up to me,” Agostina said of the win.
She also won the Connacht Championships last year and came second before.
Agostina remains humble, however and quipped that “getting through the pandemic” was one of her biggest achievements to date.
“I know many dancers that would have given up.”
After going months without rehearsals or the camaraderie of preparing for competitions with her classmates, Agostina said that returning to class was a highlight.
“I think last year, when I was getting ready for the Connacht’s to actually get fit, and get into the mood of it, that was a highlight,” she said.
“The World’s in Greensboro was also really good, because you’re crossing the ocean to go to the competition – that’s huge in itself.”
Agostina hopes “to start doing shows at some point, hopefully this summer”.
“I would love to have a professional career and eventually do my TCRG’s and ADCRG’s exams to judge and to teach,” she said.
With the 50th anniversary of the World Championships coming up in April in Belfast, Agostina is busy rehearsing for her third outing to the World’s.
When asked if she feels like a role model for other young South American dancers, she said:
“I suppose I do. Well, especially if they are planning to travel. I know there are many girls that want to come to Ireland to dance or go to America and it’s not easy.”
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