Irish Dance Festival showcases more than dance, celebrates culture

Madeline Happold

On Saturday, Nov. 1, the University Irish Dance Team held its second Annual Intercollegiate Irish Dance Festival where groups of different ages and universities gathered not only to dance and compete but also share in their love for Irish culture. 

The festival opened with the intercollegiate competitions, with each university competing in five different Irish dance categories. Eight universities competed in the event: The Catholic University of America, DeSales University, George Mason, John Hopkins, Penn State, University of Rochester, Temple University and Villanova. 

The first four events consisted of traditional Irish dance numbers: the four-hand and eight-hand competition and the intermediate and advanced treble reel. 

The fifth and final competition is the fun number, a competition specifically for university Irish Dance Clubs. These dances are usually done at campus events and are either self-choreographed or based on professional Irish dance companies. The fun numbers are also usually set to more modern music and are a way for the dancers to showcase their originality. 

The University’s own Irish Dance Team excelled in its competitions, placing both first and fourth in the four-hand, first and third in the eight-hand. Rory Beglane placed first in the advanced treble reel, with teammate Diane Molloy placing third. The University Irish Dance Team also placed first in their fun number. 

After a long day of competition the groups convened one last time for the Grand Irish Show, a lighthearted performance where the groups were able to showcase their talent. The show consisted not only of collegiate Irish dance groups, but also of other Irish dance groups in the surrounding area. Dancers as young as age five gathered together in their love for Irish dance. The non-collegiate Irish dance groups included the Coye School of Irish Dance and the McDade Cara School of Irish Dance, both local dance schools with students ranging from age five to 17. 

Along with younger Irish dance students, the show also included the Divine Providence Village Rainbow Irish Dancers, an award winning group of cognitively or physically challenged women that “dance for God.”

The Grand Irish show also showcased Irish dancers who had competed at the World level, having a “step down the line” reel that highlighted each performer. Along with the Irish dance groups, The Haveners—one of the University’s female a cappella groups—performed at the event. 

The festival also included a live Irish/Classic Rock band from Philadelphia named the Five Quid, which occasionally accompanied the performers as they danced while also playing before the show and throughout intermission. 

The band’s music varied from traditional Irish hymns to Van Morrison to The Ramones, and the crowd clapped and sang along. Before the show started, Five Quid broke out a traditional Irish hymn, and some of the crowd members jumped to their feet, forming a traditional Irish dance circle as the remainder of the crowd clapped along with the beat.   Villanova ended the Grand Irish Show with its originally choreographed fun number, a group dance to a Disney medley of songs from both “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid.” 

The team opened the medley with “Circle of Life,” and as the music started the dancers rushed onto the stage dressed in colorfully decorated lion masks. After a short dance the song quickly switched, and a new group of Villanova dancers took the stage in blue fish masks as “Under the Sea” began to play. Both groups joined together at the end to conclude their dance’s final number to “The Lion King’s” “Just Can’t Wait to be King.”

The Intercollegiate Irish Dance Festival was organized by The University’s own Irish Dance Team captain Rory Beglane and assistant captain Katie Dolan. 

It is the first collegiate Irish dance competition in North America, receiving recognition and support from Irish Dancing Magazine, the Irish Dance Teachers Association of North America and CLRG, an organization dedicated to preserving the art of Irish dance.