|Cavan Dancer Reaches the Stars from Milwaukee
The truest expression of a people is in its dance and in its music.
Bodies never lie. — Agnes de Mille
By Megan Mueller
photos to enlarge
If you were watching "Dancing with the Stars" last April, you would
have seen Sean Beglan. Even if you don't watch "Dancing with the Stars,"
you could have seen him as the male lead in Riverdance, in the Pirate
Queen, at Milwaukee Irish Fest, on a variety of shows like "Good Morning
America" and "The Today Show," or at a various Milwaukee pubs such as Paddy's
Pub or Brocach. Beglan began dancing at age 4 in Cavan, Co. Cavan, and
danced around the world with various productions.
Beglan started dancing at O'Reilly School of Irish Dance in Cavan the
day his mother sent him with his older sister, Patricia, to her dance class.
He brought several of his friends with him and recalls that he danced for
about half the class and played hide-and-seek for the other half. Even
though he loved dancing, during the warm summer months he often missed
class to go fishing or camp by a lake.
In Ireland, dancing is popular with both men and women. Beglan states
that "In Ireland, admit it or not, everyone tries dancing at one time or
another." Despite the fact that two of his brothers and one sister danced,
only Beglan pursued it. At age 9, he placed in the top 10 at theLeinster,
All-Ireland, North American and World championships of Irish dance. His
mother still has his many of his trophies and medals on display in Ireland,
but between his and Patricia's trophies, she ran out of room to display
He came to the United States for the American Nationals when he was
10, and began touring internationally with various groups at age 15. In
1998, he visited Milwaukee with a group from Tipperary to perform at Irish
Fest. His wife, Jillian Winke from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, claims she saw
him perform there, though they did not formally meet until several years
later. Winke began Irish dancing at the age of 9 with the Cashel-Dennehy
School of Irish Dance. She competed in North American, Ireland and Europe,
placing in the top three in the North American Irish Dance Championships.
She was asked to join Riverdance at age 17.
Beglan joined Riverdance when he was 17 as well and rapidly ascended
to role of male lead. He says that learning dance was "a recreation, a
hobby, but when Riverdance came out, it was a big boom - it just
took off. Irish dance has become not so much a hobby as a demanding art
form." His first performance of Riverdance was in Milwaukee at the
Two years later, Winke joined the production. Beglan and Winke met,
fell in love and toured with Riverdance together for two years before
returning to Milwaukee to get married. Although he misses the show, Beglan
doesn't miss the extensive touring. "You start to crave the simple things,"
he says, "like a refrigerator. If Riverdance was in Milwaukee permanently
and I could dance with them during the day and teach in the evenings, that
would be fine with me."
Despite being married, Beglan did not exactly "settle down." After running
into Derek Byrne, a musician from Riverdance, at a performance of
Woman, he began dancing at various pubs with Eidir, the Irish instrumental
duo of Byrne and Jim Wirk. He continued to perform at Irish Fest each year.
For a year, he danced in The Pirate Queen, which debuted in Chicago
On his return to Milwaukee, Beglan began to perform pub shows with Byrne
after Eidir broke up. There is a distinct difference between performing
for the crowds of Riverdance and those at the pub venues, he points
out. While Riverdance remained the same from performance to performance,
the pub shows are different every time. "We see what the audience is feeling
like that night and we fine-tune our show to what they want to hear and
see," Beglan says.
Dancing on television also greatly differs from the Riverdance stage.
Beglan and his wife joked about the fact that "If you fall on stage, you
can crawl off into the wings, but on live TV,there are millions watching."
There is also the difference in the size of the audience. "In a theater,
you are there to entertain and perform and the audience responds. On TV,
there is little or no audience at all. There is silence, or maybe the camera
guy claps." he chuckles. The performance went off without a hitch, without
a single fall, and the whole studio audience clapped, not just the cameraman.
and his wife's performance on Dancing with the Stars brought additional
interest to Irish dancing, and the camera crews followed them back to Milwaukee
to talk with their students at the Rince Nia Academy, much to the youngsters'
The Beglans opened Rince Nia in 2007 on Water Street in Milwaukee's
Old Third Ward. They gradually expanded to a second studio in Mequon, and
opened a third in Glendale near Bayshore after closing the first studio.
There are classes for ages 4 to adult for both recreation and competition.
While most students are youths, the adult classes are popular with a wide
range of ages. Beglan recalls teaching a woman in her 80s.
It requires a great deal of attention to work with such a variety of
students, but Beglan says the key for the students is "patience."
"A lot of kids want to jump and start and fly straight to the top, but
you need to set a good foundation or you'll hit a stone wall. Everyone
learns differently and at a different pace. In the end, they're all going
to the same destination, just taking different routes along the way." explains
Beglan. He works to bring the best out in his dancers by not using the
same step classwide. "You have to do what is best for the dancers." This
summer will be the first appearance of the Rince Nia Academy at Irish Fest.
Since many of the classes are in the evening, Beglan spends his days
teaching Irish dance in area elementary school physical education programs.
He is currently teaching at Parkway School, in the Glendale-River Hills
School District. Beglan will remain there for about a month before he moves
on to teach at another school.
Beglan continues to compete internationally, but although he misses
being part of a large production, it is unlikely he will be returning to
the stage anytime soon. He and his wife are expecting their first child
in March, though "hopefully not on St. Patrick's Day," since they are already
busy performing and celebrating on that High Holy Day.
plans to continue teaching at elementary schools and Rince Nia with his
wife as well as performing with Byrne and at Irish Fest. Beglan will continue
to dance "as long as his knees hold up," which is a time period he hopes
the difficult Wisconsin winters won't shorten.
Beglan and his wife return to Ireland periodically to visit as well
as compete. Although he misses Ireland, Beglan has found a home in Milwaukee
and is grateful for organizations like the Shamrock Club, Irish Cultural
& Heritage Center, the pubs where he and Byrne perform, as well as
Irish Fest. "They really keep the spirit of Ireland alive in Milwaukee,
supporting groups like Derek and myself and staying involved. Without their
support, the Irish communitymight not be what it is," he concludes
|For more information on Rince Nia, visit
or call (414) 243-3515.