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Russians dance to Irish beat

A poster advertises a St. Patrick's Day music and dance concert in Moscow  

By CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- St. Patrick never made it to Russia, but don't tell that to the Russians -- especially to members of the Moscow-based Irish Dance School.

Igor Denisov started the school two years ago after he saw Irish dancer Michael Flatley on television and, as Denisov puts it, something "came down from above."

"I felt that atmosphere, the mood, the internal tension and energy of the dance," Denisov says, "and I knew it was specially for me."

Like most of his dancers, Denisov has never been to Ireland. But they say there's something the Russian soul embraces in the hearts of the Irish.

"Sometimes I feel it's an innate feeling," says Irish dancer Lena Okolovich. "I don't know. It's like love, When you feel love, you don't know what causes it."

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Moscow has had Irish bars for years, and it held its first St. Patrick's Day parade 10 years ago. But what really is putting Ireland on the map in Russia now is Irish culture.

Today there are more than a dozen Irish bands in Russia. One of them is Mervent, which plays a kind of Celtic-European mix using traditional Irish instruments.

"One friend of mine gave me a tape. I heard this tune and ... it's just wonderful! I must play Celtic harp!" says the band's harpist, Anastassia Papisova.

Web site
The band Mervent is among the groups with Web sites devoted to Irish music  

The group even sings some songs in Irish -- a language that Natalya Nikolayeva teaches at Moscow State University.

"They read Irish literature, they try to learn modern Irish, and they seem to like it," Nikolayeva says of her students.

Celtic culture is catching on here, with Russian Web sites devoted to it. While Russian fans of Irish music may not understand the words, the meaning seems to get through.

"It's the energy," says Roman, "a really good, mellow energy."

"There's something magical about it," says Tatyana. "It's about ancient, romantic times, something we really lack in our lives today."


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