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Irish Dance Team brings home championship cup for the sixth time

| Friday, November 11, 2016

Nine students on the Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s Irish Dance Team brought back the team’s sixth Ceili Club Championship Cup from the All-Ireland Championship in Belfast, Northern Ireland on Saturday.

The eight ceili dancers on the Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s Irish Dance Team and their student coach, Robert Black, hold their championship trophy. Courtesy | Caitlin McGarry

The eight ceili dancers on the Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s Irish Dance Team and their student coach, Robert Black, hold their championship trophy.

The team’s student coach, Notre Dame senior Robert Black, said the team consisted of eight dancers selected from among the 70 students total who are involved with the Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s Irish Dance Team. As team coach, Black traveled with the team to Northern Ireland.

“The ‘ceili’ team is a group of eight students that are selected from the team at large based on dancing ability, endurance and aptitude for team dancing,” he said. “The team met outside club practice time to learn a traditional set choreography, the ‘Cross Reel,’ in order to compete at the All-Ireland Championships in Belfast this fall.”

Co-president of the team Saint Mary’s senior Caitlin McGarry said although the Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s Irish Dance team primarily focuses on solo dancing, the team that travels to the All-Ireland Championship performs a special type of team dance known as ceili dancing.

“[Trying out] is not a requirement for our club, but it really is an honor and a privilege to be on the ceili team,” McGarry said.

Black, who has been dancing for nearly 18 years, said the team has been training for at least four hours every week since the start of the semester and worked up to practicing every day before the competition.

“One of the most important aspects of a ‘ceili,’ at this caliber of competition, is synchronicity,” he said. “Everyone dancing needs to be performing the same footwork, the same way, at the same time.”

The team’s other co-president, Notre Dame senior Christine Kerrigan, has competed in Ireland twice previously and said the team success was not due to individual talent, but collaborative work.

“The girls on the ceili team have a special relationship forged by many hours of practice and the need to support and help each other achieve success,” she said. “The team performs at its best when every individual performs at her best, and it’s the responsibility of every member to encourage and push each other.”

Although Black does not dance with the ceili team, he plays an essential role in their success.

“Every line in the dance has to be straight and the dance has to be centered,” he said. “My role as the coach is primarily to offer adjustments in order to assist the girls, adjust the aesthetic of the dance.

“After a dancer stops competing, dance can sometimes be relegated to a hobby that you dust off as a party trick from time to time. I enjoy that I can continue doing something that I love beyond the traditional experience, and I treasure this opportunity because it is not available anywhere else in the world.”

McGarry, who previously competed in Ireland with her dance team from home, said prior to this competition she did not expect to have the opportunity to compete in Ireland again.

“I was extremely proud to represent both of our schools with some of my very dearest friends standing next to me,” she said. “The most exciting part for me was that I never thought I’d be back on that big stage ever again and there I was.”

Kerrigan said the cost of the trip was covered by team fundraising and grants given to them by the University and that the team is grateful for the opportunity.

“Most of the eight girls on the team have been dancing since they started kindergarten, and it was the last opportunity for all of us to compete at a major competition,” she said. “Walking onto the stage to perform was invigorating — walking off was bittersweet.”

Black said the pressure of the competition was released when the girls took the stage.

“I had been nervous going into the competition in the week leading up to our dance but when I watched the girls dance on stage I was so calm and so proud of all that they accomplished this semester,” he said. “The girls put their absolute best performance ever on stage at the competition and it was a privilege to watch something that I had been a part of on an international stage.”

McGarry said members of the team did not only compete in the competition to win, but also because they simply love to dance.

“Irish dance is like a whole other world, and once you’re in it, there’s no escaping it,” McGarry said.

Black added the victory was not purely based on talent.

“This victory simply underscores that success is not all about technique but also about passion and enjoyment,” he said. “Everyone put in so many hours, danced through some pretty difficult injuries and put up with my coaching to earn an international championship — and did so in incredible fashion.

“Motivating success has to come from igniting or kindling passion. Participating as a member of this team was a complete privilege and I hope that both the legacy of the team and the goal of sending a team to Ireland every year continues to motivate and excite students both on our club team and those thinking about joining.”

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