Perhaps it is my Irish heritage, but I get butterflies when I hear bagpipes and the sound of Irish dancing feet. I saw my first Irish dance performance when I was in college. My greatest observation at the time was how strong Irish dancers legs were, even years after they stopped dancing. I decided then, that in addition to the gift of life, I would one day gift my child steel quads by way of Irish dance classes.
Believe it or not, it wasn't easy to find Irish dance classes, for my daughter, in Chicago. Most schools seemed to be headquartered in the suburbs, with only after-school programs at a couple of catholic schools in the city. Fortunately, a friend invited us to join her daughter at one of those after-school programs. It worked as a beginner class, but there were no advanced classes for my daughter to move into as her skills increased. After two years, we decided to try our search again for a better fit.
That is when we found the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance. While based in Elmhurst, IL, Trinity is committed to offering robust programming at their satellite studios throughout the cities and suburbs of Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison. For us, we've been at their Lakeview studio at the Athenaeum Theater for five years now. Northside parents can also take classes at their Chicago/Northwest studio at the Irish American Heritage Center.
Trinity welcomes new dancers to join their weekly pre & beginner classes that run from Fall to late Spring, and they have a rolling enrollment. Since my daughter already had Irish dance experience, we were able to talk to a teacher about starting her at a more advanced level. If you're looking to test the waters without making a regular commitment, then their Seasonal Intro Days are a great avenue as they offer 2-day crash courses of two 45-minute classes each season, plus in summer they offer a 3-day summer camp with 2-hour classes.
There seem to be some misconceptions about Irish dance classes. The ones I have heard are:
1. It's really expensive - more expensive than other activities
2. There is a lot of pressure at and around dance competitions (Feis)
3. It is "pageanty", with too much emphasis on dancers' appearance
I have not found any of these to be true at Trinity.
In terms of expense, of course it is relative. For us, the classes cost the same as all the other dance classes my daughter is in, and is comparable to my son's travel soccer. Plus they have a "3rd Child Free" program and discounts for military and first-responders. People tend to think the real expenses are the costumes, wigs, and competitions. However, at Trinity the dancers no longer wear wigs, and to participate in a local feis is typically about a $10 fee per entry.
In terms of costumes, girls wear a standard black dress for parades and performances (boys a black vest). These outfits are rented on an annual basis. It costs up to $200/year, but once you grow out of the dress/vest, you trade it in for the next size. This is comparable to what I spend on ballet costumes for recitals on an annual basis. There is also a shoe trade-in system.
If your child competes in feis, they may eventually earn their solo dress/vest. These are the one-of-a-kind, glittery pieces, each inspired by the ancient Book of Kells. These can be very expensive, from hundreds to thousands of dollars. However, there is also a resale market. I bought my daughter's solo dress used for $400. I admit, I thought $400 for a used dress was insane! However, if you buy a dress with some room to grow or to be let out, they can last a few years. We are going on our third year with her solo dress, and we expect to resell it next year for at least $100-$200, so ultimately, the dress will have cost us about $70-$100 per year. So again, if I add it all up, in the end, it does not cost me anymore than ballet.
Feis (competitions) are completely optional. While class advancement used to depend on feis performance/placement, Trinity now employs a passport system that has nothing to do with feis participation, but instead on teacher evaluation and experience.
If you attend a feis, it may look a little "pageanty." You will find dancers using spray tan, tons of make-up, wigs, hairspray, and multiple solo dresses. But none of it is required. Again, Trinity girls are not required to wear wigs. My daughter walks into these convention centers with the dress on her back and nothing else. No make up kits, no tanner, etc., but she still tends to walk out wearing lots of medals!
My daughter's favorite part of Irish dance is being a part of the Trinity Performance Troupe during the St. Patrick's Day season. While she is anxious all year to perform in her ballet recital, with the performance troupe, she gets to perform at dozens of events throughout the spring. She especially loves the community outreach day in which they dance at different senior and/or disability centers across the city.
The dream is to dance for the Trinity Professional Troupe one day. If you ever get the chance to see their professional show, you must go. It gives Riverdance a run for its money. I would argue it is even better.
When my daughter was eleven, she had an assignment at school to write about her favorite feature. She didn't write about her face, her hair, or her smile. She wrote, "The best part of me is my legs...I love my legs so much...They are powerful...I love to dance, and ski...I love to play basketball, and run cross country...I couldn't do any of these things without my strong legs. I owe pretty much my entire life to my legs, and I am extremely grateful."
My twenty year old self, that vowed to put my kids in Irish dance one day, says, "You're welcome."