With military precision, the championship-level girls of Steel School of Irish Dance start their night with a bang.
In fact, it sounds more like a series of exploding bombs as dozens of hard-soled shoes hit the floor of the busy studio, located in a Cloverdale business park.
No question, it’s really loud in there on a Monday evening when the teens rehearse for the school’s annual winter performance, set for Saturday, Feb. 10 at Surrey’s Bell Performing Arts Centre.
Prior to practice, the girls gathered in the studio foyer to gab and laugh, but it was all business after that as they prepared for their evening show at the Bell.
“At this level, there’s no time for dilly-dallying,” said Megan Largy, an instructor at the school, with a laugh. “We have a lot to get through and the girls take their work very seriously – for shows, and especially for competitions, they come here ready to work, ready to make themselves better. They work really hard.”
Largy and studio director Jacquelyn Hardychuk are both former students of the school, founded in 1981 by Hardychuk’s mom, Carol Del Bianco. Hardychuk took over as chief operator in 2009, and the school moved into its current home, a fancy, mirror-walled space near Pacific Highway and 64th Avenue, about four years ago.
Close to 120 of the school’s dancers will perform at the Bell in a show that’s open to the public. But, of course, most of the seats are filled by each dancer’s family and friends.
“For the recital coming up, we treat it more like a show, for entertainment, and it’s held every February as a showcase of what we do,” Largy explained. “Some of these pieces we take out for shows throughout the rest of the year, especially for St. Patrick’s Day. Some of the dances are done for just the one night (at the Bell).
“It’s fun for the girls,” Largy added. “I did all the choreography for the championship class and I like to do more modern pieces, maybe to songs they listen to on the radio, and I like to listen to on the radio – you know, the Beastie Boys one we’re doing. And that’s because they dance to Irish music all the time, for years and years, so it’s something a bit different.”
Kelly McCallum, a Chilliwack-area resident, said she brings her daughter Jesula, 16, to the school for training up to four times a week.
“It’s worth the drive,” she said. “We’re quite new here, for about six months, and we liked it because there’s a lot of camaraderie and team spirit, lots of activities to bring them together, and the support is amazing.”
Fellow mother Kelly Ketchem lives in Port Coquitlam with her dancing daughters, Gemma, 19, and Pixie, 14.
“Even when I was paying the tolls, it was still worth it to come here,” Ketchem said. “The girls are very close, good friends even outside of dance. The teachers are amazing. They challenge the girls but they’re also encouraging, and when the girls are having a hard time, they’re supportive.”
Gemma and Jesula, along with another Steel student, Brianna Kraft-Rudolph, are off to the 2018 All Ireland Championships, held in Killarney, immediately following the school’s show at the Bell.
“The next day they get on a plane and fly there, to one of the oldest and most prestigious dance competitions,” Ketchem noted.
The Feb. 10 performance in Surrey offers spectators a glimpse of the progression in training from beginners to championship-level students, many of whom have qualified for North American and World championships.
The showcase event, which gets going at 6 p.m. and runs for two hours, will feature a combination of soft- and hard-shoe dancing in both traditional and modern choreographies. Tickets are $14.50 for kids and $17.50 for adults at the Bell box office (604-507-6355, bellperformingartscentre.com).
“We do this (recital) in February because it’s just a good time for us, in our competitive season,” Largy explained. “We do put a lot of work into it and don’t want to take away from our competitive training, so the girls all train really hard from August into November, and that was our regional championships. We have over 20 girls qualified to go to the North American championships, and nine qualify for the world championships through that. That was their big thing.
“And through December,” she continued, “it’s more of a break for everyone, and we don’t want to push through because that’s when injuries happen, we relax a little bit, we learn the choreography and then in January it’s all about the show at the Bell, and in February it’s back to Killarney and the All Ireland Championships, and then at the end of March and beginning of April, it’ll be the world championships in Glasgow, Scotland.”