SURREY — Dance competitions and recitals begin in earnest next month. Many dancers will compete in local festivals and will try to bring home trophies as tangible proof of their hours of training and talent. But for six dancers from Surrey’s Steel School of Irish Dance, their competitions will not all be local.
The school qualified a record number of individual dancers for the 2016 World Irish Dance Championships, coming up this March in Glasgow, Scotland.
All six of these dancers won a spot to “worlds” at the Western Canadian Oireachtas, held in Kelowna last November.
“Oireachtas” is the Irish word for championships. Before the oireachtas, though, comes all the other “feisanna” (Irish dance competitions) these dancers attend throughout the year, up and down the Pacific Coast, including stops in Oregon, Washington, Alberta and the rest of B.C. Lots of travel – and expense.
This trip to Glasgow needs a special fundraising effort. Over the past few years, I have been fortunate to see students from the Steel School perform at local pubs on St. Patrick’s Day, thanks to the efforts of KC Gilroy and the Surrey Christmas Bureau. The dancers receive a bit of funding and the Christmas bureau gets great entertainment at its March fundraiser. Everybody wins. If you have been at one of these events, you will recognize some of the dancers and I am sure wish them well.
Jacquelyn Hardychuk, owner of the Steel school and head dance teacher, calls these six qualifiers one of hardest working groups to ever pass through the school. They must work and train constantly, as “the caliber of dance at the Worlds is comparable to that of the Olympic athletes. Only about one per cent of all Irish dancers make it to this level, (and) to have the opportunity to be among the world’s best is a huge achievement.”
Dance lessons are just the beginning of the dancers’ schedules. They work with cross-trainers, physiotherapists and sports psychologists. Belle Heritage, one of the six in this group, says Irish dance runs in the family.
“My great aunt started the Steel School of Irish dance back in the ’80s,” says Belle. “My mom used to take dance from my aunt and now my cousin Jacquelyn (Hardychuk) runs the school and I take lessons from her. I go to class four to five days a week, averaging about 10 hours a week, including private lessons and home practice. We also do some cross-training at the studio with our trainer, Jessica, on Saturdays for one-and-a-half hours. One day, I want to be a dance teacher like my aunt and my cousin, and I would also love to tour with ‘Riverdance.’ Irish dance is a huge part of my life. My dance friends are more like family because we spend so much time together.”
Belle is 12 years old and attends Mountainview Montessori School. She is not the youngest of this group. Charli Olson, 10, is also going to Worlds, along with her sister, Lauren, 13. Charli attends LaRonde Elementary, and Lauren attends Earl Marriott Secondary. Charli loves softball and gymnastics, but gave up softball this year because it conflicted with dance. Sister Lauren gives her support for this decision.
“The toughest part of being at this level is having to sacrifice any free time you may ever have,” Lauren relates. “It’s a huge sacrifice, but well worth it!”
Lauren and Charli’s parents, Deborah Ziolkoski and Ed Olson, point out the value of lessons learned through Irish dance: “As parents, we cannot say enough about the values and the lessons our children have learned through Irish dance. It has helped them understand the value of commitment, perseverance, work ethic and team work. They know that good things happen if you work hard.”
Calleigh McLaughlin, 16, is also part of the team. This Clayton Heights student declares that “qualifying for the Worlds was easily one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life. It is both a thrill and an honour for all of us to represent Canada at the Worlds.”
Fellow group members headed to Scotland are Mikaela Barton, 17, who attends Sullivan Heights Secondary, and Sabine Alexander, 13, who is from Richmond and attends McMath Secondary.
Never seen any Irish dance? The Steel School is hosting its annual “Winter Performance” show at the Bell Performing Arts Centre on Saturday, Feb. 13, starting at 7 p.m. For more information, go to Steelschoolofirishdance.com.