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The Ballagh Family Band bring Fiddlin’ and footwork in step

The Ballagh Family, Paige, Matthew, Janice, Michael, Devan and Gary, bring their varied talents to the stage Nov. 5 in Maryhill.

That adage about the family that plays together stays together certainly applies to the Ballagh Bunch, performers of traditional Celtic music with an East Coast flavour.

Gary and Janice Ballagh, along with their four children – Devan, Michael, Paige and Matthew, ranging in ages from 26 to 17 – will bring their multi-instrumental step-dancing show to the Commercial Tavern in Maryhill on Sunday afternoon.

The kids more or less having been born into performing, the Ballagh family have toured extensively for more than a decade, branching out from their home in Teeswater. They were introduced to step dancing at a young age, as mom Janice was one of the McMichael sisters, “Canada’s step dancing sweethearts” who were guests on the Tommy Hunter Show, and have performed in places such as the Miami Fiddle Festival, Carmen Fiddle Festival, Dartmouth Old Tyme Festival, Fiddles of the World and numerous performances in New York State.

The three oldest kids won numerous step dancing competitions early on. Step dancing performances often going hand-in-hand with fiddling contests, it was only natural to eventually start the kids out with fiddle lessons, notes dad Gary Ballagh.

“We were going to these contests anyway … it just made sense to pair them up.”

From fiddle lessons, the musical instruments proliferated, branching out to the likes of piano, mandolin and cello to accompany the singing.

Their show is heavy on fiddles and dancing, as you might expect. The Irish and Scottish roots are joined with Canadian stylings.

“It’s old-time country to down East kitchen-style music,” said Ballagh. “We like the Maritime way – the ceilidh, that kitchen party thing.”

The Ballagh kids began performing at a young age, adding to their repertoire as the years went on. [Submitted]

The concert is a mix of traditional songs – fire up Big John McNeil on the fiddle – to their original compositions. Accompanied by dancing, of course – they’re all accomplished choreographers and composers of step dance. In fact, when not on the road, they can be found teaching at their home studio, The Ballagh’s School of Dance, Fitness, and Music.

It’s very much a family act. Having spent more than a decade performing together – sometimes in very close quarters while on the road – they still enjoy the experience, he said. They’ve been immersed in the music and the culture their whole lives.

“They don’t know anything else,” Ballagh said, joking that performing together means he always knows where his kids are at. “We’ve been very blessed with having them around.”

The Ballagh Family Band performs at the Commercial Tavern Sunday (Nov. 5) at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at the venue, 1303 Maryhill Rd., or by calling 519-648-3644. For more information, visit www.commercialtavern.ca.

The show is part of a fiddlin’ weekend at the venue, as fiddler Carl Kees will be joining Paul Weber’s band for a show Saturday night.

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