Our friend and fellow IDTANA-Southern Region member Maureen Harling Welty, ADCRG, passed away on Monday, May 2, 2011, after a long and courageous battle.
The following tribute to Maureen appeared in the 2010 Southern Region Oireachtas program book.
Dance there upon the shore, the stanza from WB Yeats poem, “To a Child Dancing”, beautifully describes Maureen Harling-Welty. Growing up in Chicago in the 1960’s Maureen was introduced to Irish dancing and music at a very young age. Her father, Sean Harling, a talented Irish dancer and musician, was on tour with the Irish singer, Carmel Quinn, when he met Maureen’s mother, Elizabeth, and her sister, Margie Bartishell. Aunt Margie, an Irish dance instructor, together with her father, introduced Maureen to all the passion of traditional dance and music. Maureen began dancing at the age of three and rose quickly through the grades to Open Champion by the age of seven; competing at All Irelands and, at age eleven, qualifying for the World Championships becoming the youngest dancer from Mid America in both 1970 and 1971. She danced with both the Clancy Brothers and the Chieftains and toured with Green Fields of America together with her good friend, Irish fiddler and Grammy Nominee, Liz Caroll.
In 1978, Maureen traded in her competition shoes to teach young children the joy of Irish dance. As a TCRG, she taught first in Chicago and then in South Florida, where in 1998 she opened her own school, the Harling Irish Dance Academy (HIDA). Later Maureen would also earn her ADCRG and offer her knowledge and discernment of proper dance to competitive dancers, nationally and internationally.
Over the course of the next twelve years, Maureen’s Harling Irish Dance Academy flourished. Promoting such principles as honor, integrity and dedication, Maureen created many talented dancers. Frequently, the HIDA dancers were seen on the podium at the Southern Region Oireachtas with winning soloists, teams, choreography and dance dramas. In recent years HIDA has been represented at World Championships. While Maureen helped dancers become great competitors, she never lost sight of the importance of promoting Irish dance in the community. Her school actively performed throughout South Florida, being invited to perform at such functions as the Mayor’s Gala, Florida Panthers St Patrick’s night, Broward Symphony, Renaissance Festival, Orlando Magic half-time show, Atlantis Resort, and many others. Such performances, although requiring extra time and effort, were great fun for the dancers, and helped build community ties. For Harling Irish Dance Academy’s 10th anniversary, dancers and their families toured Ireland to celebrate its cultural and history.
During both performances and competitions, encouraging children to do their best and to overcome trials and set-backs was always important to Maureen. If dancers gave it their all, Maureen would help all dancers address their challenges whether timing, stage fright, or basic dance form to reach their goals. Ironically, it would be Maureen herself who would be faced with her own adversity and have to rely on strength, courage and determination to overcome life’s cruel fate.
In July of 2009 Maureen began having numbness, difficulty speaking, then slurred words, and finally unrecognizable speech. For the next several months she would visit doctors and therapists, take a battery of tests, until finally in December it was determined that Maureen suffered from a rare form of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, (ALS) or more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
ALS interrupts the way in which an individual’s brain sends signals to the muscles, rendering the muscles inactive. Muscles slowly atrophy leaving an individual paralyzed. Over the course of three to five years an individual loses the ability to walk, talk, and even eat. A progressive and fatal disease, ALS is unforgiving to an individual, as through the entire process a person’s mental faculties are not affected. Such was the outcome Maureen was facing and to make matters worse for her the disease would not follow the typical pattern, and attacked her speech first and then rapidly took over all other muscle groups. At this point closing her school and retiring from the dance and teaching she loved, would have naturally been understandable, but for Maureen it just wasn’t an option. After the initial shock of the diagnosis, sheer determination took over and Maureen and the Harling Irish Dancers forged on. With the help of a talking computer, Maureen started back with workshops in January to prepare dancers for upcoming Feisanna and performances. Her ability to correct and teach never once was an issue, and her dancers did well.
In February and March 2010, came performance season and with it, the 40 or so performances typical for the Harling Irish dancers in South Florida, including a five- week run of the South Florida Renaissance Festival. Once again, the Harling determination was never more evident. With Maureen’s support and direction, and help from her family, the Harling Irish Dancers completed a fun and successful season. Behind the scene, older dancers mentored younger dancers and together they demonstrated to South Florida Maureen’s devotion to Irish dance.
During these next several months, a wonderful transformation took place in the HIDA dancers. As they watched Maureen’s resolve to continue to battle this horrific disease, dancers and families decided to give their time and talents to bring awareness to ALS. In March, dancers and friends became “The Maureen Corps” and participated in a fundraising walk. Dancers found creative ways to raise funds for the team, selling homemade “Hearts for Hope”, operating a massive Face Book campaign, and, of course, through dancing fundraisers. For this one event HIDA dancers raised over $11,000 for the South Florida Chapter of the ALS Association.
With the help of dedicated senior dancers, Maureen continued to hold classes and HIDA carried on competing and performing. However, classes became more than just dance instruction. They became life lessons – on living with a disability and having the determination to carry on through great adversity. Suchcharacter building had always been the backbone to Maureen’s teaching.
In September of 2010, Maureen wrote, “It is time. You know me, timing is the most important thing in Irish dance. It is time for me to close the school. In my heart you will always be my dancers (Harling), regardless of what school you dance for”. Coming as a shock to all HIDA families, especially the dancers who had been there from the school’s inception, it seemed Harling Irish Dance Academy had come to an end. However, Maureen through a pure devotion to her dancers and families found a way to keep the Harling families together and move forward. Unbeknownst to the Harling families, Maureen had reached out to Karl Drake, the owner of the Drake School of Irish Dance to orchestrate merging the HIDA families and dancers into his school. Once again, the tenacity of Maureen was never so evident and a successful relationship between HIDA and Karl Drake was formed.
In December 2010, eleven former HIDA dancers (now Drake) competed in the Southern Region Oireachtas where Maureen Harling-Welty was the event’s honoree for her commitment and dedication to Irish Dance. Maureen’s legacy of “Honor, Integrity, and Dedication, Always” is cast through the many lives she has touched, as well as the dancers who have learned to persevere both on and off the dance floor. Again in the words of Yeats famous poem, “Dance there upon the shore, what need have you to care, for wind and water’s roar?” With unending love and gratitude we tip our hats to you Maureen Harling.