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Rock Canyon High School's Student Newspaper

the Rock Online

Rock Canyon High School's Student Newspaper

the Rock Online

Rock Canyon High School's Student Newspaper

the Rock Online

The World of Irish Dance

Read an overview of the different styles and fashions of Irish dance and how performances and competitions take place
media by courtesy of Jen Soden
Rock Canyon and Mountain Vista students Ella Hazel Heimer ‘25, Katherine Shuler ‘24, Kerry Soden ‘25, Eleanor Nugent ‘25, Allie Hight ‘23 and Ashley Wolfson ‘26 sit in rainbow order on stage together after their regional competition at Oireachtas Ballroom in Phoenix Arizona November 2023. Each girl, part of the Reed School of Irish Dance, placed differently as this was a solo round but all recalled and attended the award ceremony at the end of the competition. “A good mentality that I always have is that when I get to a competition I remember I’ve already done the practicing that needed to be done, and now I get to just focus on executing it on stage and having fun,” Soden said.

When you hear the words “Irish dancer,” what comes to mind? Maybe St. Patrick’s Day, or Riverdance?

While Irish dancers do sometimes perform during St. Patrick’s Day, Irish dance is also an international, competitive sport. Males and females ranging in age from five to adult compete in Irish dance in countries worldwide including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States.

Dancers perform in various levels of competition from beginner to open champion at both local events called Feiseanna and major regional, national and world competitions, referred to as Oireachtas Rince.

Irish dance is a sport with no “off-season.” Dancers practice all year and compete throughout the year. In early April, the World Championships–also known as Worlds–are held. To be able to compete at Worlds, dancers must qualify at lower major competitions such as nationals, which are held in July, or regionals, which are held in November. 

On Nov. 18, Eleanor Nugent rehearses her hard shoe dance the evening before the day she competes for The Western Region Regionals in Arizona. “Dancing in hard shoe is also a really fun way to show all of the endurance and effort that goes into the dance,” Nugent said. Media by Ella Heimer

Because there are so many dancers in one competition, dancers are required to wear a number card pinned to their dress to help the judges differentiate between who to place for recall without knowing their names or dance school to prevent biased judging.

Competing in this sport can also be very confusing. At major competitions, to dance a third dance, known as the “set dance,” dancers must recall. Dancers are separated into age groups, allowing dancers to dance with people their age and have a more fair chance. At major competitions, there are around 100 to 400 dancers in an age group, depending on which competition is taking place. 

One competition includes three total dances over one day. A recall occurs after the first two dances are performed and is when the judges call half of the dancers in the competition. The dancers that recall perform their third solo, attend the award ceremony, walk the stage, receive their medals and stay put for photos. 

Irish dancing also varies on the shoe styles used. One dance is performed in soft shoes, leather-like shoes that are made for leaps and more graceful dancing. The second is performed in hard shoes, which are shoes known for creating sound and intricate rhythms. 

“I prefer hard shoes because I love the energy and sound of them,” Eleanor Nugent ‘25 said. Nugent has been dancing for 12 years at the Reed School of Irish Dance, founded by Zanthia Reed.

Another major piece of this sport is the over-the-top costumes. The sparkly dresses are called solo dresses. Solo dresses have evolved greatly over the years. Back in the 1990s, there was no bling, the dresses were traditional. Now, solo dresses are covered in rhinestones, intricate designs and bright colors. 

“Costumes used to be much longer–about an inch below the knee. Celtic designs, hand sewn, made of all velvet. An Irish brooch was worn to hold on a back cape on the dress along with crocheted collars were also always worn on the solo dresses,” Reed said.


Kerry Soden ‘25 repeatedly drills her steps at practice April 5. “My favorite part about dance practices is seeing all of my friends and also being able to get a good workout in at the end of the day,” Soden said. (media by Ella Heimer)

Each solo dress is one of a kind, with only one like it in the world. Dancers now tend to buy custom solo dresses made specifically for the dancer, rather than buying a used one. Custom solo dresses can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000.

St. Patrick’s Day dancing is more cosmetic, where dancers will move their arms and dance in formations that involve many dancers at a time. 

Last year, dancers from the Reed School of Irish Dance were overbooked for shows due to high requests of performers for the holiday. 

“Being overbooked last year was tough considering many of us ended up with injuries of some sort, but I always have a lot of fun,” Nugent said. 

Nugent has made mul friends from dancing over the years, one being two-time world qualifier Kerry Soden ‘25. Friendship and having a strong mentality can be important when it comes to the sport. 

Mentality before taking the stage can be hard to control, especially at the World Championships. March 27, in Glasgow, Scotland, Soden prepared to dance in front of the judges.

“A good mentality that I always have is that when I get to a competition I remember I’ve already done the practicing that needed to be done, and now I get to just focus on executing it on stage and having fun,” Soden said.

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