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Three Generations of Irish Dance

The McConnell family founded the first Irish dance school in Ballymena, Northern Ireland over 100 years ago (now Seven Towers Dancers)

McConnell Irish Dance is the largest and most successful Irish Dance school in Manitoba, Canada with three generations of Irish dance excellence.

 

OUR HISTORY

In the  early 1930's Agnes McConnell began teaching Irish dance to the local millworker's children and was one of a rare few who initiated the re-introduction of the Irish Dance tradition in the North of Ireland. Agnes's younger brother Samuel followed in his sister's Irish dance footsteps and also branched out to other styles of dance, such as Ballroom, Tap Jazz and Folk.  In the tradition of the ancient Irish dance masters, Sam McConnell travelled the Irish countryside to neighbouring villages during this time of the growing resurgence of the Irish dance tradition in County Antrim.  Sam was first introduced to his wife Sarah McConnell (nee McNally) at a dance competition, and together the two competed at ballroom dance events across the country.  In 1947, shortly after the end of World War II, Sam and Sarah moved their young family with three children to Winnipeg, Canada where they established McConnell School of Dance.

Truly a family affair, Sam and Sarah's four children Raymond McConnell, Pearl McConnell, Sam (Jr.) McConnell with his wife Paulette McConnell all taught for the school and at many satellite and rural locations throughout Manitoba.  Pearl's daughter Shayleen McConnell Finucan continues to run the school today.

SAM & SARAH MCCONNELL  (1930 to 1990)

Sam and Sarah McConnell established the Sam McConnell Dancers (McConnell School of Dance) in Winnipeg in 1947.  McConnell School of Dance was one of the first dance studios in Manitoba and it quickly grew become a full time occupation for Sam and Sarah.  The school offered classes in many disciplines of dance including Irish, tap, ballet, ballroom and folk dance.  McConnell School of Dance is one of the longest running dance schools in Manitoba and was the first Irish dance school established in Western Canada.

The school has taught thousands of students across Manitoba, spanning generations of families who return with their children and grandchildren.  McConnell School of Dance's annual recital at Pantages Playhouse Theatre was a two day sold-out event with live band accompaniment from the Ted Komar Orchestra. Sam McConnell was the choreographer for many CBC Winnipeg television shows, Rainbow Stage and Hollow Mug productions. 

Sam was one of the founding members of the "Folk Arts Council of Winnipeg" and Folklorama.  Both Sam and Sarah received citizenship awards from the City of Winnipeg for their community service work.  The McConnell's were lifetime honorary members of the "Winnipeg Irish Association" and "Irish Association of Manitoba".  On the school's 25th Anniversary, they were recognised by her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth.

PEARL MCCONNELL (1950 - 2005)

Pearl McConnell began dancing at age four in Ireland.  She studied Irish, Tap and Ballet and would often accompany her father to lessons in neighbouring towns, perched on the handle bars of his bicycle.  At a young age Pearl had the honour of performing an Irish Jig with Glenn Miller and his orchestra in Belfast, shortly before his untimely death.   Pearl performed and choreographed over 300 CBC television shows including "Red River Jamboree" and "Pick the Stars" in Toronto.  She was a regular dancer in Rainbow Stage productions and a choreographer for the "Hollow Mug" musicals for ten years running.  Pearl established the "Norberry Dancers" when she was only 16 years of age and continued to perform and teach with her father at "McConnell School of Dance."  In keeping with the tradition of the Irish dance masters, she travelled to many rural areas to teach, including St. Norbert, St. Pierre, St Adolphe and Carman.  Pearl established the "Shannon Irish Dancers" at the "Manitoba Irish Association."  In 1982, after the passing of Sam and the retirement of Sarah, Pearl took over the running of "McConnell School of Dance." 

Pearl's background in musicals and exposure to varying styles of dance provided her with the ability to branch out with innovative choreography.  She combined exciting choreography with traditional steps, captivating North American audiences with it's lightning fast pace.  Whilst still preserving the traditions of Irish Dance passed down the family line, Pearl added unique elements to create a style that had never been seen before.  She is the only choreographer to incorporate the Bodhrán (ancient Irish Drum) and spoons into her productions and the "McConnell Dancers" remain the only Irish Dancers who have the unique ability to drum and dance at the same time.  Pearl was also the first to interweave traditional solo dances in full non-stop productions with military-precise choreography.
 

SHAYLEEN MCCONNELL FINUCAN (2005 - Present)

McConnell Irish is now in it's third generation, under the direction of Shayleen McConnell Finucan, grandaughter of Sam & Sarah and daughter or Pearl McConnell.  
 
Shayleen followed in the family tradition learning Irish dance as a young child and it wasn't long before she was accompanying her mother Pearl to help teach Irish dance classes. Shayleen danced with the McConnell Irish Dancers, Norberry Dancers, and was one of the original members of the Winnipeg Irish Association's Shannon Irish Dancers (founded by Pearl McConnell).
 
Shayleen grew up surrounded with music and dance.  Shayleen spent countless hours at the family dance studio as a young child while her mother and grandfather taught classes and grandmother ran the administrative office.  Shayleen's father, Wayne Finucan, a prominent musician and owned one of the largest recording studio in Winnipeg (Wayne Finucan Productions).  In the early years, the recording studio ran from the basement of the family home and Shayleen grew up in a unique environment where incredible music was created downstairs and talented, sometimes famous musicians came to her house record every day.  Shayleen enjoyed both playing music and the technical aspects of sound production and worked with her father at Finucan Productions until the studio was sold in 1990.
 
In 1998 Shayleen took an 8 year hiatus from Irish dance while she travelled on a sailboat through the Pacific, Caribbean, and Atlantic ocean.  During this time she returned each year to In 2004 Shayleen returned to Manitoba to run McConnell School of Dance, upon her mother's retirement.
 
Shayleen McConnell Finucan is a fully certified Irish dance teacher having earned her ODCRN diploma from Cumann Rince Náisiúnta (CRN) based in Dublin, Ireland. Shayleen is the first Canadian to achieve her teacher's certification from CRN. With an extensive background in music, dance, musical theatre, she has also studied Ballet and Lyrical with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and Theatre & Drama at the University of Winnipeg.   
 
Shayleen was the choreographer for the Magic of Ireland Show, 2009 European Tour and has choreographed productions both theatre and stage.
 

Shayleen McConnell Finucan has been involved with the Folklorama Festival since 1976 and has volunteered with the Ireland – Irish Pavilion (1976 – 1981), the Emerald Isle Pavilion (1982 – 1993), the Isle of the Shamrock Pavilion (1994 – 2003), the Ireland – Irish Pavilion (2005 – 2012), and the United Kingdom Pavilion (2014- 2019). 

  • Folklorama performer and volunteer for 34 years, Shayleen has served as Pavilion chair in areas including entertainment, volunteers, finance, and admissions. 
  • Active member in the Irish community, Shayleen served on the Board of Directors of the Irish Association of Manitoba from 2006 – 2012.
  • Coordinator for the Ireland Irish Pavilion from 2010 – 2012 (4 years)
  • Coordinator for the United Kingdom Pavilion 2014 – present (6 years)

 

Under the direction of Shayleen McConnell Finucan, the McConnell Irish Dancers have travelled the world to represent Canada and Ireland in CIOFF International Festivals, Peru (2007), Costa Rica (2009), Bulgaria (2011)), North Carolina (2017).   In 2012, McConnell Irish Dancers performed at Walt Disney World, Florida at the American Celtic Irish Dance Festival and in 2013 they were honoured to be the only Canadian Irish dance troupe to be invite to perform in Ireland as part of the Gathering 2013.
 
International Travel
McConnell Dancers are a member of C.I.O.F.F International and have performed all over the world, promoting Celtic Culture.
2007 - Peru
2009 - Costa Rica
2011 - Bulgaria
2012 - Walt Disney World Florida
2013 - Ireland (Limerick & Dublin)
2016 - Peru
2017 - North Carolina, USA

The McConnell Irish Dancers have performed with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in 1998, 2009, and 2016.  The dancers perform with the very talented traditional Irish musicians from the Barefoot Ceili Band and Enaid.
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