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Unleashing of a Celtic dragon

By Jonathan Stefonek  (China Daily)

09:21, March 18, 2013

Karl Drake and young dancers at the competition held this month by Drake School of Irish Dance in Shanghai. (China Daily)

"This is actually a dream that I've had for probably 10 years - to start teaching in China," says Karl Drake, as he looks out over a mass of young Chinese and European faces.

They are ready for their moment on stage, in bright Irish folk dress, diamantine socks and the hard shoes that Riverdance made famous around the world.

"A year ago I was discussing the possibility, and now it is happening," says Drake, with the subtlest of accents and a red jacket that highlights his more Irish features.

And while an amazingly short time has passed between the time Drake first visited China in 2011 and when the Drake School of Irish Dance in Shanghai hosted its first competition this month, this Irish-American wasn't exactly starting from scratch.

His own feet had placed him fifth in the World Irish Dance Championships in Ireland. In 1990, the Irish-born Drake, who has lived in the US for a couple of decades, created the school of Irish dance in his new hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.

He has produced regional and national champions who had been competing in the world championships in Ireland since the 1990s. He has trained and coached Catie Foley, currently ranked eighth in the Worlds. He has coached the stars of Riverdance and a team of competitors on America's Got Talent.

And now in Shanghai, he is coaching a mix of intermediate dancers and some real beginners, who hope their energy, their happy feet - and maybe a glittering leotard - can take them to the next level.

"I just think that the Chinese love the music, they love the tradition, and they love something that is different," says Drake.

When he came to teach the first time in China - invited by the Yan Ling Performing Arts Center in Beijing to do a workshop and create some choreography for the Lunar New Year - almost 150 people showed up in leotards or workout gear.

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