“I never would have been able to do any of this without the support of my mam,” ~ Karl Drake
Before Riverdance, Feet of Flames, Celtic Women and other performance groups rose to popularity in the late 90s and early 2000s, a 16-year-old immigrant arrived in New York. He carried only his dance shoes and a goal to start his very own Irish Dance studio.
More than thirty years later, Karl Drake, ADCRG, still has the distinctive Dublin accent, but he has acquired a new goal — going global with his trademark schools.
The first goal took him less than five years to achieve. At first, Karl taught workshops in the homes of immigrant Irish families. And as the demand for classes grew, he relocated to Atlanta to open his first studio in the Peachtree Corners/ Norcross area in 1990.
As the Irish population grew in metro-Atlanta, many flocked to the School of Irish Dance. The Berkeley Lake studio is off Peachtree Industrial and features weekly lessons for both adults, as well as workshops and authentic dance competitions —“ Féises”. More information is available at www.drakedance.com.
Karl partnered with Grahame Wood and his pioneering DRAKE dance family to hold the first Peach State Féis at Oglethorpe University where close to 180 dancers competed. The school is now training for the 29th Peach State Féis and for the World Championships, which will be held in Greensboro, N.C in April.
“We’re all so excited to have the World Championships not only in the U.S, but [in the South], which is great for our dancers who can drive for the first time,” Karl said of the event which is usually held overseas. “We always had a huge expense traveling to Ireland or the U.K., so this year is just amazing, giving all dancers the opportunity to attend. Even those who haven’t qualified to compete can come see the caliber of some of the top dancers in the world.”
Come St. Patty’s Day, Karl’s already busy schedule gets packed with performances at schools, nursing homes, local Irish pubs, corporate events, and local festivals. Recently, he visited Berkeley Lake Elementary.
“One of the fun things I do is go into schools. I do a demonstration and a Q&A . . . and one of the most exciting parts is when I call the teachers up, and they learn a dance,” Karl said.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 16th is one of the school’s biggest events of the year. Typically, dancers from all of his Peach-state locations including Norcross, Alpharetta, Decatur, Carrolton, and Rome participate in the procession that winds through Midtown.
“The St. Patrick’s Day parade is one of largest and oldest in the South, and it’s always a very exciting one, now, since the route through Midtown has grown immensely in the past five to ten years. There’s always a great buzz, great excitement always, and the parade is a way for the younger generation of dancers to connect with older generations of dancers, and we’ve always had a fun time doing it,” Karl said.
Earlier in the year, Karl was invited to instruct a master class workshop in Mumbai, India. The success he found in Mumbai has catalyzed Karl’s vision to expand globally.
“It’s taking Irish Dance to another level,” Karl said of his current vision. “My next goal in this particular phase of my life is opening other schools of Irish Dance and giving the world exposure to Irish Dance.”
Already, Karl has established schools in both Mexico and China. He visits Mexico City several times a year, and at the end of March, he will make his sixth trip to Shanghai where he has trained native professionals to instruct weekly Irish Dance lessons.
The prestige of the school is highlighted in the success of its alumni, and not only on the dance floor.
“Most of my students have gone on to have very professional careers,” Karl said of his former student Catie Foley was one of my top dancers, and now she’s a graphic designer at Coca-Cola. Anne Reilly is now a lawyer in Florida, Sean Wil-kes is a doctor in Hawaii . . . Amanda Tucker Poole has her own division of the School in Auburn AL. as does Christina Deacy in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl., Anna Johnson teaches at the Peachstate locations, Maddie Hane who has her division of the schools in Houston Texas and Moira Fisch-man, and Fernanda Cajiga- Mexico.”
According to Karl, “School is not just a dance school, it’s a family” and their time at the school provides much more than just technical training.
“Dancing, I think everyone would agree, definitely changes your life,” said Isabel Mendoza, 23, a current student at the Berkeley Lake studio. “We’ve all definitely matured, and we’ve all grown together — you learn you’re not always going to win. You learn to be humble, and we’ve just grown a lot with dance. I wouldn’t dance with any other school or teacher. “
On top of his busy schedule, Karl now fits in judging competitions — Féiseanna — around the world. He has successfully obtained the prestigious ADCRG certification/ license from CLRG, Dublin, Ireland.