Save the irish dance
When she started Irish dancing as an 8-year-old, Alaina Sullivan still recalls being told that she was already too old for it. After ultimately reaching the highest level of competition with Trinity Academy of Dance before getting to high school, Sullivan was able to laugh those claims off.
And she still can today.
That’s because Sullivan, now a junior at UW-Eau Claire, is vice president of the Eau Claire Irish Dance Club, where people of all ages can learn the basics of the dance on a weekly basis.
Gettin’ jiggy with it
It started in the spring of 2010 when Sullivan, a freshman at the time, was introduced to fellow Eau Claire freshman Brenna Long. Now a junior, Long had also been involved with Trinity growing up and said she was looking for other people who Irish danced to form a group.
Long said she started to get the word out but had trouble finding people other than Sullivan who came from an Irish dancing background.
“It proved to be pretty difficult,” Long said. “But there were a lot of people that wanted to learn.”
In the beginning, Long said there were about eight to 10 people who attended meetings, and that Sullivan and her had to teach the basics to those who showed up, starting with a jig. Long said she was fortunate to have had the chance to teach Irish dance to younger kids in the past, which proved to be valuable experience.
“Teaching older kids was a lot easier because a lot of them had had dance experience before, and their focus is obviously a lot better than that of a 5-year-old,” she said. “I personally found it very enjoyable.”
While their peers had better focus, it was clear they lacked the years of instruction, Sullivan said.
“You can learn the choreography easier when you’re older, but the technique isn’t always there,” she said. “So that’s been our main difficulty.”
Senior Jenna Vater was one of their first students and is now one of the primary instructors for the club. Vater said she had danced a lot growing up and she thought joining the club would be fun.
“I’ve learned everything I know from them,” she said. “It’s very different from the forms of dance I had learned, so I had to correct myself a lot.”
Just a month and a half later the club put on their first performance at Eau Claire’s Got Talent, where they received honorable mention, Long said.
Many girls were in the same position as Vater and had been Irish dancing for less than two months, Long said. Vater said that she was fortunate that she had been on stage in the past.
“All of my dance experience really helped a lot because I’m used to being on stage,” Vater said. “But I’m pretty sure for a lot of people it
By the end of the semester, the club applied to become an official campus organization, Long said. Surprisingly, she said they found out that there had been a club on campus in the past, but they had disbanded in 2005.
Long said it was good news because looking at the constitution from the previous group made the application process go even more smoothly.
“It helped me get an idea because I didn’t really know how to state the objective right away,” she said. “So we kind of drew some ideas from that and it was really helpful.”
After getting approved, Long said they have been an official campus organization ever since.
“It became helpful to say that we were a recognized student organization because we’ve had a lot more opportunities ever since.”
About the club
The Eau Claire Irish Dance Club meets every every Sunday from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in the McPhee Dance Studio. Long said that students and community members of any skill level are welcome to come.
Students who join the club have to pay a membership fee of $7 per semester or $10 per year, she said. The fee is slightly higher for members of the public at $10 per semester and $15 per year.
Long added that for those who are just curious about the club can attend two meetings before being required to pay.
There are currently 15 to 20 people who attend the club on and off on a weekly basis, Long said. And she said there is smaller group of about 8 to 10 girls that typically
There are no tryouts for those who have a desire to perform with the club, Sullivan said, and anyone who has a desire to perform is able to.
However, Long did say that there are a few specific higher profile performances that they only ask certain people to perform in.
In general, Long said there are a lot of people who attend each week that might not be experts and are just looking to get some exercise.
“That’s what we’re getting more of now, women from the public who have seen us perform — or have a friend who has — and thought it would be a good idea,” she said.
Several men have been involved with the club at times, Long said.
Anyone looking for more information can email the club at IrishDance@uwec.edu. Likewise, Long said they are pretty active on their Facebook page, Facebook.com/EauClaireIrishDance.
Long said she expects the club to come back strong again next year because they have just two girls graduating.
However, Long said she and Sullivan will both be out of school by the end of year.
“That’s why we are trying to draw people in because this is something that I hope can go on after we are gone,” Long said.
There are several younger girls on the team now who came in with prior Irish dance experience, Sullivan added. She joked about her expectations for those girls after she graduates.
“We are maybe secretly training them to take over,” she said. “They just might not know it yet.”
Vater acknowledged that she originally joined the club just looking for something fun to do. However, she said it would be hard for her to imagine life in the future without Irish dance now.
“I’ll probably do it on my own just for fun,” Vater said. “Even when I’m a mom, I’ll probably teach my kids a jig. If I can continue it in any way, I definitely will.”
Seeing girls like Vater who came in without having ever Irish danced before has been particularly rewarded for Long, who said she never could have imagined how far the organization has come.
Even more than performing, Long said that’s been her favorite part of starting the club, which she hopes can exist for a while.
“Seeing someone like Jenna kind of take it and run with it — and now it’s a part of her life — that’s just been great,” Long said. “You are spreading your love for something to a wider audience of people, and that’s the ultimate goal.”
March 2012 performance schedule
Saturday, March 3 — 7:30 p.m. Performance with local band The Shillelagh Lads @ Schofield Auditorium
Thursday, March 8 — 8 p.m. Performance @ Governors Hall
Friday, March 9 — 7:10 p.m. Performance with The Shillelagh Lads @ Houligan’s Pub, 418 S. Barstow St.
Saturday, March 10 — 6:30-9 p.m. Performance with The Shillelagh Lads @ Acoustic Cafe, 505 S. Barstow St.
Tuesday, March 13 — TBD Performance @ Katharine Thomas Hall International Night
Saturday, March 17 —1 p.m. Performance @ Chippewa Valley Museum, Carson Park; 6-8 p.m. & 9-11 p.m. Performance with The Shillelagh Lads @ Houligan’s Pub
Wednesday, March 21 — 12 p.m. Performance with The Shillelagh Lads @ First Congregational UCC, 310 Broadway St.
Check out some instructional videos from the club’s YouTube page.