It’s true a good lot of residents of southeastern Wisconsin claim some Irish heritage, but on March 17 everyone acquires a bit o’ the Irish when it’s time to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. And it’s not only the lucky Irish that are dancing, either: In the course of just one generation, Irish dance has become a well-known, highly regarded and eagerly anticipated activity for people of all ethnic heritages.
More than two thousand years ago, when the Celts arrived in Ireland from central Europe, they brought their own folk dances. Neighbors would gather to dance, play music and tell stories—what we call a céili. Today céilis are held for young and old, experienced or not, to enjoy group dances and music.
In 21st century Milwaukee, Irish dance has kissed the Blarney Stone. With six excellent Irish dance schools and all the opportunities that stretch from them, dancers’ talent and the support of other Irish organizations, Milwaukee is home to many successful Irish dancers—and the numbers just keep increasing.
“Irish dancing is a very beautiful artform. It continues to evolve, and therefore the interest is maintained,” says Bridget Jaskulski, owner of Glencastle Irish Dancers. “Dancers are given the opportunity to compete and perform, and many lasting friendships are formed. It is an intricate, fun and disciplined form of dance, and I believe this is why so many want to learn.”
The dancers most certainly do feel that way. We interviewed eight Irish dancers from the Milwaukee metropolitan area, and without exception, they all agree.
Ellie Gonzales, age 6 - Milwaukee
I have been dancing for 1½ years with Trinity. I like being on stage at shows and feises (Irish dance competitions). My favorite show was on the big stage at Irish Fest. I also liked going to Minnesota and Chicago to compete. I have learned that having fun and trying my hardest is the most important part. When I am not dancing I like going to school, going to the zoo, roller skating and playing with my sisters and friends.
Jackson Evans, age 11 - Milwaukee
I have been dancing with Trinity Academy for almost six years now. The thing I like most about dancing is being with the friends I’ve made and performing in shows at Irish Fest. I like the competition, too. I have learned a lot about my Irish heritage by being an Irish dancer. I am very excited to travel to Ireland. When I am not dancing, I like to read and play on the Wii.
Emma Johnson, age 14 - Wauwatosa
I have been dancing for six years with Cashel Dennehy. I’ve learned a lot about good sportsmanship (competing against your friends is hard), and conquering nerves for getting on stage. Dancing is a lot of hard work, but it definitely pays off through the extraordinary opportunities. I have been able to dance at regionals and nationals ... and maybe someday at the world championships in Ireland!
Ania Colby, age 9 - Greendale
I have been with Glencastle Irish Dancers for three years, going on four. It is very fun! Learning the dances and performing is exciting. I’ve learned that I can really focus when I have to! When I’m not dancing, though, I like playing the violin, playing with my dog and spending time with my family.
Nora Costello, age 9 - Whitefish Bay
I started dancing with Rince Nia when I was 4 years old. I like learning new steps, being with friends and meeting new friends, going to competitions, dancing at shows and the costumes. Oh, yes, and learning some Gaelic! I have learned that I can dance in front of judges and an audience with a smile, by practicing and focusing I have learned many fun steps, plus I am not as shy. When I’m not dancing, I practice my violin, play with my friends (they dance too!) and listen to my favorite musician, Natalie MacMaster.
Kathleen Watson, age 12 - Elm Grove
I’ve been dancing with Glencastle Irish Dancers for eight years. I love the challenge of learning new dance steps and participating in competitions and have learned how to motivate myself and push myself to be the best that I can be. When I’m not dancing, I enjoy reading, playing basketball, listening to music and walking my dog.
Erin O’Dell, age 7 - Glendale
I started dancing with the McMenamin Irish Dance Academy when I was 4 years old. I like dancing with my friends, especially at feisianna and Oireachtas, Irish Fest and parades. I have learned that I have to work really hard and that my friends and I can still be friends even when we dance against each other. I also like to go ice skating, sledding and swimming.
This story originally appeared in the March 2011 edition of Metroparent Magazine.