Irish dancing is no longer just for the Irish.
“One of the first questions parents have when they’re interested in signing up their child for our dance classes is whether or not they have to be Irish,” said Natalie Howard, co-director of Trinity Academy of Irish Dance. “Of course not!” is the response. Howard said the dancers are from diverse backgrounds, including African-Americans, Latinos and Asians.
Noted Sarah Weh, a Trinity dancer, “You just don’t need to have Irish in your blood to want to try Irish dance.”
Irish step dancing is known for its rapid leg and foot movements, with the body and arms kept mostly stationary.
Anne Blume remembers seeing the Trinity Irish Dancers at the Milwaukee Irish Fest when she was just 6 years old and wanting to join them on stage. Today she is the head instructor. “I think that it’s always going to have growth and change,” Blume said. “When I started … I would only do about one [competition] a year and a couple shows. Now that it’s taken off, there’s just so much more dancers can do with it.”
While it may have a rich Irish tradition behind it, Blume said she thinks Irish dancing is just like any other sport. Championship-level dancers practice up to 30 hours a week, devoting their time and energy to perfecting their footwork and increasing their stamina.
Meghan Clennan started Irish dancing because she had broken her arm, and a sport that required no use of her arms seemed to be the perfect fit.
Blume attributes the city’s interest in Irish culture to the Irish Fest that Milwaukee hosts during the summer. The festival is one of North America’s largest celebrations of Irish heritage. In fact, most girls in Blume’s upper-level Wednesday night class credit their initial interest in Irish dance to Irish Fest. Only about half of the girls identify as Irish.
Trinity dancers have multiple shows every day during the week of St. Patrick’s Day, but show “season” is the whole month of March.
“St. Patrick’s Day in Milwaukee is pretty crazy. People get into it; parade day is always a big celebration,” Blume said, whether the revelers are Irish or not.