ND/SMC Irish Dance Team to perform annual showcase
Notre Dame junior Katy Wahl and Saint Mary’s senior Mary Kate McLaughlin talk about the upcoming Irish Dance Team showcase, “We Got the Beat,” and dance team members practice for the performance during a dress rehearsal Thursday. Video by Brian Lach
The Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s College Irish Dance Team will perform its annual showcase, titled “We Got the Beat,” on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Washington Hall.
The show, a series of dances to popular music as well as traditional Irish music, is the Irish Dance Team’s biggest fundraiser of the year, team co-president and Saint Mary’s senior Mary Kate McLaughlin said.
“It helps us fund our trips to Ireland and things like that,” she said. “We just love doing our show. It’s a lot of work. We put a lot of hours into it, especially during this week, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Irish dance is known for its fast footwork, rhythmic but graceful movement and traditional Irish costumes.
“If anyone has ever seen Riverdance or Feet of Flames, that’s very similar to what we do,” team co-president and Notre Dame junior Katy Wahl said. “Very high intensity, more than what people would realize. It’s a real workout; it’s all with your feet. No arms — your arms have to stay by your side. It’s fun. It’s just different.”
McLaughlin said while team members, which include about 60 woman and one man, have a range of experience, they have all had some training, and many have been Irish dancing for a decade or more.
“We all kind of range from different dancing abilities,” she said. “There’s some of us who are really just in it for fun and for performing, and then just did it for a few years, and then there’s other girls on the team who have been doing it their whole lives, who have gone to nationals, worlds, things like that. It’s a variety of abilities on our team.”
Wahl said there are a number of types of dances, both solo and team, which could use either a soft, ballet-like shoe or a hard, tap-like shoe. She said the ND/SMC team is divided into soft- and hard-shoe teams.
“There are two shoes that you wear in Irish dance, soft and hard. The soft shoe is kind of like a ballet slipper, and the hard shoe is similar to a tap shoe, but it’s a lot heavier and it has a wooden bottom. The Blue team only does soft shoe, and the Gold team does both soft and hard,” Wahl said.McLaughlin said she prefers team dances because of the opportunity for collaboration.
“I like more of the team camaraderie as opposed to solo, [which] is a lot more on your own, and you’re kind of against everyone,” she said. “When you’re on a team, it’s all people from your school that you are friends with. Teams are more fun for me.”
Wahl said the benefit of solo dances is the ability to make a dance one’s own.
“With solo steps, those steps are unique to each dance school, so everyone you’re dancing with is going to be doing a different step at the same time,” she said. “For me, those are really fun because it’s who can impress the judges more, who can get in their face more, whose steps are fuller and better.”
McLaughlin said team members perform several times per year, including during basketball halftimes and football pep rallies. In addition, eight dancers go to the All-Ireland Irish Dance Championship every fall near Dublin, where they perform a traditional ceili dance. McLaughlin said the Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s ceili team, often the only Americans at the competition, have won first place each year they competed.
“It’s great to be able to be able to go over there and represent both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, and it was even better to bring back the gold now four times in a row for our team,” she said. “That was really amazing. It’s definitely a nerve-racking experience being there with all the other teams that were all from Ireland or England.”
This weekend’s performance will include contemporary music by artists such as Taylor Swift in addition to traditional numbers and the dance that won the ceili team its first-place prize in Ireland. McLaughlin said team members choreograph many of the dances themselves.
“That’s a lot of the fun part too,” McLaughlin said. “Everyone gets to be creative and come up with their own dance.”
McLaughlin, who started Irish dancing at the age of four, said she intends to become certified to teach dancing after college.
“It’s fun — just performing in general, big events like [the showcase], that’s what I have the most fun doing,” she said. “But knowing that you put so much work into something, and then seeing the final product and getting to perform in front of an audience and all these people, it’s really rewarding.”