This week we celebrate the remarkable career of Betty Bible, a woman whose 60 years of teaching justifiably merits her title as Waterford’s Queen of Dance.
While her name has become synonymous with Irish steps, Betty’s achievements are acclaimed in many other dance forms including ballet, modern, Latin American and old-time dancing. She became the first ever Republic of Ireland ballroom champions with partner/husband-to-be Billy Mulcahy in 1953. They married the following year and from that time it became the Mulcahy-Bible School of Dance.
Betty has been surrounded by dance, particularly Irish dancing, all her life. Her mother, Biddy Dillon, was a champion dancer and began to teaching Betty her first steps from a young age; she in turn has passed on her passion to her daughters Jean and Faith and furthermore to grandchildren Sam Harris and Dawn Mulcahy. A great family tradition indeed!
Betty taught her first Irish dance class in 1948, her mother having started the then Waterford Academy of Irish Dancing with a friend back in the 20s. Eventually Betty took it over in 1950. Within a short few years the Mulcahy-Bible School of Dance grew and prospered and by 1969 she had become a founding member of the new governing body of Irish dance teachers – Comhdhail na Muinteoiri Le Rinci Gaelacha.
Daughters Jean and Faith work side by side with Betty. Indeed, both of them it could be said have been teaching as long as they have been dancing. So not surprisingly both went on to achieve their TCRGs to qualify as professional teachers. Granddaughter Dawn also went on to acquire her teaching qualification, as did David O’Neill, one of their former pupils and a multi-champion dancer.
While girls have traditionally outnumbered the boys, a fair number of males do stay with it and quite a few attain notable success. William Croke, for example, went on to be five-times Solo All-Ireland International Champion; Sam Harris, with dance in his genes, danced his way to seven Munster titles. Others ‘caught the performance bug’, with the likes of Brian Flynn and Brian Merriman very successful producers of musicals.
Leading the way
There is a thesis to be written on the impetus Riverdance gave to Irish dancing worldwide. Well, long before Michael Flatley and Jean Butler, the merits of Irish dance were well known.
Betty has long been admired for her grace and elegance, and for being as fit as a fiddle. In 1969 when she helped establish the dancing Comhdhail, her innate sense of style saw her crowned National Miss Elegance, a forerunner of Miss Ireland. In 1970, following her appointment as choreographer to the ACEC-Tops of the Town group, she won the first of four national titles, the others attained in ’74, ’76, and ’77.
Other outstanding memories she has include giving exhibitions to such notables as Margaret, sister of Padraig Pearse; former taoiseach Sean Lemass, and ex-president Erskine Childers. In 1976 they entertained the then-Uachtarán Cearbhail Ó Dálaigh, who travelled especially to Waterford to honour the Mulcahy-Bible school.
Troupes of its dancers have appeared on ‘The Late Late Show’ and many other popular TV programmes over the years. Betty and her team have been generous in supporting various Waterford charity events also, while visiting cruise liners regularly seek out their talents to showcase Irish culture.
The dancers have participated in St Patrick’s Day Parade since day one, and the ever sprightly Betty led them out on the streets of Waterford once again last week.
Fling and flair
Celebrating Betty’s career is not just about looking back: her school, with the lively and dedicated support of Jean, Faith and their teaching team continues to prosper. The school has continued to win championships in varies grades and styles. They have reached the zenith five times in the free-style section of the All-Ireland International Dancing Championship at both senior and junior level.
And they don’t rest on their laurels, for as we speak they are all busily preparing for the 2010 All-Irelands, to be held at CityWest next week.
After that plans are already in place to bring 150 of their dancers to Disneyland Paris in the coming months, which proved such a great success last year that Disneyland insisted they come back.
And to finish with a flourish on a local note, Deise Dancing has proved a huge success and is set to return shortly – with Betty choreographer-in-chief.
Take a bow, Betty.
Maith Thú – Go Seachtain Eile.