As Shawn Silver prepares to step away from the stage for a while, he hopes that the light never dims in the hearts of those he’s taught
Shawn Silver is passionate about dance. Even when he’s simply prepping for photos, he counts out the perfect timing to each expertly selected song for each pose. “It has to be authentic to look authentic,” he says as he counts the girls in. “One, two, three…” Silver comes by his passion honestly; he was born with it.
“It’s funny because so many people ask me in my life; how did you decide to become a dancer. I didn’t decide to become a dancer. It was in me,” he says.
‘Dancing Chose Me’
Being ‘gifted’ with a passion is an interesting thing, he continues. “You have a passion for something either because we are taught it or because we are it, but either way we don’t choose it. Dancing chose me. My father and my grandfather, the men in my life, were dancers and that inspired me.”
Some of his earliest childhood memories are of dancing. “All I ever wanted to do was dance. When kids say to me; I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up or I don’t have a dream or a goal yet, I say; if you can see it in your head, you can do it and become it.”
And, if you have a passion for something, like he has with dance, it can become your life’s work.
Catherine Ducey, 22, is from Mount Pearl. Jennifer Crowe, 24, is from St. John’s. Both women began dancing with Silver when they were very young. While they make the spins and jumps and leg kicks look easy, it’s obviously exhausting – if exhilarating – movement.
Silver has the girls take five.
“It’s interesting, both of those women came to me as children, and I remember their parents saying they had seen River Dance and they wanted to learn River Dance. For me, as a young man who had been taught by my father and my grandfather, I feel like a torch bearer now. I’ve passed the torch to these women who now teach other youth the passion of Irish Dance.”
The world needs passion, Silver continues. “For me, it’s really important that I pass along what I know and what I’ve learned, from some really great people in the world, to these young people.”
‘The Gift of Irish Dance’
That is, after all, how tradition continues, he adds.
“That’s how community evolves. That’s how the traditional ways stay around. I teach it to you, you teach it to others, and we never lose that gift, in this case, the gift of Irish dance.”
Irish dancing is an ancient way of dance going back before Christianity, to a time when people worshiped light and trees and earth and fire. “We danced because we could; for weddings and death and for babies and when we became a woman or a man, we danced for celebration.”
But this island is filled with culture; from the Vikings to the Beothuk to the French and Portuguese. Every culture left its mark.
“The Irish also left their mark and I felt that I added to an already rich roster of talent and culture here in Newfoundland by sharing my way of Irish dancing through my company, iDance.”
Silver is proud of what he’s done. “iDance has become Newfoundland’s only dance center dedicated exclusively to Irish dance and the culture that incorporates that and we speak Irish when we dance.” But it’s never been about him performing, he says. “It was me giving opportunities to young people to find that outlet for themselves.”
Irish dancing is one of the most popular forms of dance on the planet, Silver continues, made even moreso in the 90s when Lord of the Dance gained notoriety.
Break time is over. As the three dance, they demonstrate expert timing and precision.
Ducey shares that her dance training has helped her in athletics, particularly basketball.
“I started dancing when I was eight. I first saw River Dance at four and I started dancing around the house. Dance has taken me across the province since. The hardest part? Trying to make it look easy while keeping your composure,” Ducey says with a laugh.
But she says she loves dancing with Silver. “Shawn brings out the best of all of us,” she says.
Crowe started the same time as Ducey, so the two have been dancing together for years. “I always felt I had a connection to Irish and Newfoundland music. I couldn’t stop my feet when I heard it.”
Besides loving the music, she also loves the costumes, many of which are one of a kind.
It doesn’t matter to either what size of a crowd they are dancing for; it’s all the same effort.
“There’s nothing like dancing and the challenge is making it look easy. There’s so much creativity in Irish dance. That’s the fun of it; anyone can do it. And it becomes a lifelong commitment and gift, whether it’s O’Reilly’s Irish Newfoundland Pub’s dance floor or a stage at the Glacier, it’s now in our blood,” says Crowe.
Silver has high standards, the women continue, he taught them to be dedicated and determined.
“He’s been an inspiration to us. And to be with him in The Herald, which reaches all over the island, that’s great because that’s been our goal all along. Take Irish dance to every corner of the island,” says Crowe.
Crowe adds she wants people to know that Irish dance is celebrating Irish culture and everything that comes with that, be it St. Patrick’s Day or any day of the year.
Silver himself says he’s danced across the globe – except Antarctica.
“I’d like to think I brought something to the stage every time,” he says modestly.
And now? “All the young people will carry the torch,” he says quietly. Retirement is around the corner, but it’s time. Silver was involved in a serious accident years ago, one that left him in a body cast.
“They said I’d never walk again, but I knew I was on this planet to dance,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.
But retirement isn’t yet; there’s St Patrick’s Day to get through first.
“For Irish dancers, St. Patrick’s day is like our Christmas because we dance all over the place. It’s the only time of the year that, if you are in Korea or Japan or Ireland or Newfoundland you will have that same sense of celebration and community and all for the good ol’ Irish and whatever that represents.”
Does he love the one day celebration? “I think it’s good. It brings us together and that’s all I’ve every tried to do.”
As things wrap up, Silver smiles at Ducey and Crowe.
“They have been as important to me as my shoes. It’s important to bring out young, talented, energetic people. It’s what teaching dance is all about,” he says, adding with a laugh, “I’m a ‘sole’ man without soles!”
Silver points to his worn shoes; the soles are indeed danced out!
Achieving His Dream
Years ago, when his shoes still had soles, Silver was one of those young talents. He and his partner, Bruce Pearce, have been together for 26 years and it was Pearce who helped Silver achieve his dream.
Pearce and Silver both had great jobs in Toronto. Silver was an investor on Bay Street and Pearce was a policy advisor to Bob Rae. “I dragged him here. I said, we’re going to Newfoundland so I can become a dancer, and he said, sure. He always made me feel that if that’s what you are here for, then that’s what you do.”
But there’s more.
“All you guys at NTV and The Herald have always supported me. Really. I have only wonderful things to say about you all. You’re the best, hands down. Everyone there. Thank you. I mean it. And thank you personally. You’re so sweet to ask me to be part of this celebration of all things Irish.”
But the real thanks go to the dancers, and the parents who brought them to classes.
“The dedication this has taken? Thanks so much. And to those who have booked us, and watched us dance; we wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for you all. Thank you.”
While 2018 will be mostly a sabbatical year for Silver, he’ll never really stop dancing. “I’ll always continue to work with young people and emerging artists to help shape and develop new talent. I love to dance, teach and choreograph. It’s working with all those young people that inspires me. I get to work with some of the best dancers on the planet. It doesn’t get much better.”
*Sara Rostotski Photos