Toeing to a different beat… Mullenix brings traditional Irish Dance to Carter County

Published 3:02 pm Friday, February 12, 2021

The Appalachian Mountains and its people are renowned for their culture and traditions from the way they prepare their food to their style of bluegrass and country music as well as their dance be it a good old community square dance hoedown to flat-footing to a good old bluegrass tune.
Throughout time, however, other styles have made their way in the foothills and valleys that run throughout the spine of the Appalachians. Today young people have opportunities to learn tap, ballet, and hip hop dances to name a few.
Now, children and adults alike have the opportunity to learn another style of dance thanks to Hampton’s Kimberly Mullenix who has begun teaching Irish Dance at Watts Dance Studio.
Mullenix became familiar with traditional Irish Dance as an adult in the early 1990’s in Boston, MA.
“After meeting Sheila Bremer, ADCRG I began dancing at her school in Salem, MA and within a year I began working as a teacher’s assistant at the Bremer School,” said Mullenix. “Then I started teaching with her full time.
“I had the opportunity to dance both competitively and on performance teams with the school. After winning a North American Irish Dance Championship title on an adult ladies ceili team, I focused primarily on teaching.
“Since leaving Boston I have had the opportunity to teach with Brent and Abbey Woods in Savannah, GA as well as Charleston, SC, and Jacksonville, FL. After that, I started my own Irish dance group in South Alabama before we moved back to Hampton.”
Mullenix’s love for the art of Irish Dance formed in Boston where she fell in love with it. According to the Hampton resident, no one was teaching adults at the time so she had to really search to find classes, and when she did she filled her time with taking every class and workshop possible.
She actually participated in a children’s class at the Bremer School which chartered her course on a path from which she has never looked back.
Each dance form has different distinctions that set it apart from others and such is the case with Irish Dance. The dance instructor was asked what sets this form of dance apart from others.
“It would definitely be that we don’t use our arms! You’re expected to have good carriage (how you hold your body while dancing), crossed legs, and turned out feet — all while keeping your arms still at your side,” Mullenix explained.
“Everything is danced on the toes with your heels off the ground. We perform dances in both hard and soft shoes. The soft shoes are called ghillies and the dance style is graceful, light, and danced on the toes. 
“The hard shoe dances are percussive and have a very clear kinship to clogging, tap, and buck dancing,” continued Mullenix. “There is so much historical significance to the technique, costumes, and music. I always try to delve into that during my classes. It’s important to know the history.”
When it comes to learning the traditional Irish Dance, students will find one of the most challenging aspects of the dance to be the non-use of arms and the posture required for the style of dance.
Traditional Irish Dance is a very structured style of dance according to Mullenix. The dance has been handed down for hundreds of years and once the students begin to learn the technique and steps, the more the students will accomplish.
When speaking with Mullenix, however, she wanted to emphasize that she loves to always say that it’s easy — one only needs to know your right from your left and how to count to eight and she would help with the rest.
So why would someone want to offer this style of dance in Carter County one might ask. The answer was a simple one.
“I was born and raised in Hampton and was a former student at Watts Dance Studio in Elizabethton,” Mullenix stated. “We recently moved back home and it seemed a natural progression to teach again.
“I love teaching and I enjoy watching dancers work hard and achieve their goals. After speaking with Chrisann Watts Tull, we worked out an arrangement for studio space and time. We have such a rich Scots-Irish heritage in this area. I want to continue to honor that by making this art form available to people locally.”
The Irish Dance classes that Mullenix is offering is for ages five to adult. Classes are being taught at Watts Dance Studio in Elizabethton located at 603 Race Street.
Adult classes last for one hour and are held on Thursdays at 6:15 p.m. and the cost is $28 per month. Children’s classes are conducted on Fridays with the following time slots:
3:30-4:15 – ages 5-7,  $22 per month
4:15-5:15 – ages 8-12, $28 per month 
5:15-6:15 – ages 13 and up, $28 per month
The first class is always free and a 10 percent discount is offered if there is more than one dancer in a family attending classes.
“I would love to see Irish Dance grow and thrive here! We have such a rich cultural heritage in this area,” Mullenix stated. “I love that Irish Dance can be approached from so many directions — performances are going to be the main focus for the dance company, but teaching about the history and culture of this dance form is just as important.
“There’s a place for everyone here. I want Irish Dance to be accessible to anyone who wants to participate and learn. I’m also looking forward to being a part of the community through teaching, dance outs, and performances.”
Mullenix went on to add that Irish Dance is great fun and allows one not only to work their body but their brain as well.
Added into the mix is that anyone can participate from kids to adults and offers the opportunity to learn discipline, teamwork, and self-confidence while learning with friends and challenging oneself in something totally new.
A simple message was offered by Mullenix to those who might be thinking about or considering learning this age-old tradition of Irish Dance.
“Give it a try! Look up videos of Irish Dance online if you’re not familiar with it. You’ll work hard, you’ll learn a lot about the dance and history, and you’ll make some new friends!” Mullenix said.
“It’s an athletic dance form like no other. I’ve found that athletes, as well as trained dancers, fall in love with it. And it’s not just for girls, guys can do it, too!”

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