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Stepping Out: Irish Step Dancers at WHS


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WHS sophomore Taylor Johnson has an interest in a very unique style of dance, Irish Step Dancing. Besides Johnson, there are only a few other students at WHS that share the same interest. Those students are Shannon O’Neil, Molly Hester, and Margaret Hester. Johnson and O’Neil both dance at the Mcinerney School of Irish Step (located on the Auburn/Worcester line) taught by Claire McInerney-Genalucci, and the Hester sisters dance at O’Shea Chaplin School of Irish Step Dance.

Johnson started Irish Step seven years ago when she was in third grade. She had been a dancer since she was two participating in ballet, tap and jazz; she wanted to try something new. Her other friends were all Irish Step Dancing and told her to try it, so she did. Seven years later, Johnson is dancing two hours a day, five days a week. These five days include four days at the school studio and one day at her studio in her own house.

In Irish Step there are many levels that can be achieved. The first level is pre-beginner followed by beginner, and then advanced beginners, then novice, followed by preliminary-championships, then open-championships. Johnson is currently at the preliminary-championship level. In order to get to a new and higher level, one must receive a first place in every dance at competitions in that level.

At a competition, also called a feis, dancers wait for their turn backstage along with the other competitors with whom they are dancing. Unlike other dance competitions, two dancers go up on stage at the same time. The two dancers are from different schools and each has her own routine. For Johnson, she calms her nerves before going on stage by listening to her iPod, stretching, and going over her routines.

Johnson’s favorite part about competitions is performing in front of a crowd and proving to everyone that her practice has really paid off. Her least favorite part about competitions is wearing a wig. All Irish Step dancers are supposed to wear a wig, along with bloomers and an extremely heavy dress. Johnson also dislikes having to tan her legs, and if there was one thing she could change about Irish dancing this would be it. She says “it’s really frustrating to tan your legs because if the tanner is not dry then it will rub off on the underskirt of your dress and dresses cost A LOT of money!”

There are also many injuries that Irish Step dancers commonly sustain. One of them is stress fractures in the feet and sometimes there are problems with the knees and ankles. Johnson has had stress fractures, problems with her knees, and has also sprained her ankle while stepping.

Overall Johnson has gone through gymnastics and lots of different kinds of dances, to finally find the one she enjoys the most, Irish step dancing. Her grandma from Ireland is happy she’s taking Irish Step dancing, and Johnson is grateful too. She says, “It’s hard and there are a lot of nerves at times, but overall it’s really fun and it’s worth all the practice.”

Shannon O’Neil, a senior at WHS, also dances at the McInerney School of Irish Step Dancing. Like Johnson, O’Neil started off with traditional dancing when she was three years old. When O’Neil was six years old her grandma showed her a Riverdance video and she wanted to be like the dancers she saw on the movie. So she started Irish Step classes soon after and immediately fell in love, and she had been dancing ever since!

O’Neil loves competitions; to her they’re a blast! “I love working really hard and then going to competition to show off what you have been working on. I also love getting ready for competition in the morning by putting on all my make-up and my wig. On stage it can get nerve-wracking when you first step up on stage and see all the people watching and the judges but once the music starts it makes all your nerves go away,” O’Neil says. Off stage she loves spending time with her dance friends because they’re like her second family and they’re always there for each other.

Although O’Neil loves being on stage she has had to take time off in the past for ankle sprains, broken toes, and torn ligaments. Like any other dancer though she attended physical therapy and then got right back in the studio to get back on track. O’Neil hates taking time off for injuries, but she doesn’t mind taking time off from the wig, “The most uncomfortable thing for me to wear at feises would have to be my wig. It is very light but there are so many bobby-pins that I use to keep it in that it occasionally gives me a headache.”

O’Neil loves to work hard and achieve her goals. “My favorite aspect of dance is working hard and earning what you receive. There is not a better feeling then after months of hard work receiving a trophy! But even if you don’t receive a trophy the other great aspects are the people I have met and the memories I have made.” O’Neil’s favorite dance would be the reel (soft shoe dance), “I love how it is an upbeat dance and in my soft shoes. I love soft shoes dance the most. I also love how the reel lets you add in really cool moves since it is faster!” O’Neil keeps a positive attitude for dance because she feels that’s the best way to achieve your goals, by always looking forward and never back! Obviously it has helped O’Neil achieve her goals because she now competes as a Preliminary-Champion dancer!

Molly Hester, a sophomore at WHS, started Irish Step Dancing when she was three years old. She started because it was family tradition, all three of her older sisters danced so Molly felt right in place following tradition. Molly attends the O’Shea Chaplin School of Irish Step Dance. Molly and her sister Margaret see their teachers three times a week at practices. She attends Monday, Friday and Saturday practices. In total she is dancing 9 hours a week.

To Molly competition’s, or feises, are crazy and chaotic. She says there’s too much to focus on, between nailing her dances, calming her nerves, and all the stuff she has to bring, therefore she always seems to forget something. When on the stage though Molly says, “When I hit the stage one of two things happens I either look really happy but on the inside I am so nervous, or I look like I mean business and that I am ready to leave it all on the stage including the nerves and second and third round same thing happens again.” This is why competitions are Molly’s favorite aspect of dancing; she loves the thrill of the competition and the feeling of giving it all she’s got on stage. Molly’s favorite dance to dance would be the Hornpipe (Heavy shoe step), because she says, “The rhythms just sort of come to me, I am not a graceful girl so light shoe is out of the question for me, but I love hornpipe, because all the ways you go slow then fast and the sounds and the pounding that you can use. When I dance it, it feels really good like you have this powerful energy!” She has had some setbacks though. She sustained a second degree ankle sprain when she went down on it wrong while practicing, and then fell on it the next day causing the second degree sprain. Also Molly’s knees are always sore from all of the pounding.

Molly’s sister Margaret Hester, a senior at WHS, she started Irish Step Dancing when she was four but was kicked out because she talked too much! The next year she went back to dance class a quieter child! She too followed the family tradition in Irish Dancing and attends the same school as her sister above.

At competitions Margaret is a big ball of nerves, “I get so nervous and I keep getting paranoid like what if I forget my steps or what if I accidently trip another girl, it’s really bad! But as soon as I get on stage I cut the nerves and pretend to look really confident and I just go with it. The actual dancing isn’t bad. Once I get going I lose my nerves but then when I stop they come rushing back.” She says the most difficult part of a feis is walking off the stage because she danced her all so her legs are shaking and she tries to remember if she looked good, or thought she danced well. Her favorite dance is the reel (soft shoe dance), she says, “I love doing leaps, runs, ponies and birds. It’s just so quick-paced and powerful. It’s the best feeling when you can actually feel how high and still you are when you hang a leap. It’s phenomenal.”

For both sisters the most uncomfortable thing to wear during a competition is the wig. Molly hates the wig because of all the bobby pins stuffed in those curls, she feels as if they’re stabbing her head! Margaret says, “It’s like a liability, SO MUCH can go wrong with it! It’s big and heavy and then there is that embarrassing risk of it falling off.”

Like any Irish Dancer, Margaret has faced her fair share of injuries, she hyper extended her ligaments on her right foot and left ankle, as well as getting tendinitis from all the impact. Margaret has also had numerous sprains and bone issues in her feet. None of these injuries have stopped her from practicing though, which she says is her favorite part of Irish dancing, “I like hanging out with all the dancers and working hard. After a long dance class I just have such a sense of accomplishment.” Margaret secretly enjoys the feeling of being sore, that way she knows she’s had a good work out.

It takes perseverance, dedication, and hard work to pursue this type of commitment to dancing. These 4 WHS dancers are sure to be a continued successful.

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  1. Mrs. Miller on October 20th, 2009 6:18 pm

    I really enjoyed both the interview and the dancing here. I am fascinated by Irish Step dancing and love to watch it. Keep up the great work everyone.

    Mrs. Miller

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Stepping Out: Irish Step Dancers at WHS