(Photo above: Left to right: Kristen Sileo, Allison Wetterauw, Colleen Fitzpatrick, and Eileen McAlonan from the Catholic University of America accept the second place award for the Four Hand Reel from George Pinchock, Villanova’s assistant director of the Office of Music Activities.)
By Brendan Clay
“When I was younger, my mom would always show me videos of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance,” said Kristian Stefanides, “and she always caught me in front of the TV dancing when I was about three or four years old. And ever since then, I’ve loved Irish dancing.”
Stefanides is a member of the Villanova Irish Dance Team, and her skills were on display Saturday, November 1, at the Second Annual Intercollegiate Irish Dance Festival held in Villanova University’s Jake Nevin Field House.
Eight schools came to show their skill, their creativity, and their love of Irish dance. The dancers competed in four rounds of traditional Irish dance — a four hand, an eight hand, an intermediate treble reel, and an advanced treble reel—and finished up with a free-form exhibition performance known as the fun number.
The competition is partially the brainchild of Rory Beglane, Villanova’s current captain. In his sophomore year, Beglane and his then co-captain Mattie Rowan proposed that the school organize a competition to help invigorate the team and differentiate it from other clubs on campus.
After getting permission from the Irish Dance Teacher’s Association of North America and CLRG, the Irish dance commission, to ensure that competitors wouldn’t be excluded from other competitions for their participation, the first Intercollegiate Irish Dance Festival was held at Villanova on November 16, 2013.
“That show had about 500 people come to attend,” said Beglane. “I’m still blown away by how successful it’s been and how successful it was this year as well.”
The philosophy behind the competition is to not only cater to top dancers, but to give everyone who wants to compete at the college level an opportunity to dance. With that in mind, the contest included an intermediate treble reel, which allowed intermediate level dancers an opportunity to be judged alongside their peers.
After finishing up with the more traditional Irish dances, the festival moved on to the fun number. Beglane calls it “the heart and soul of collegiate Irish dancing.” These group numbers are choreographed with no strong guidelines, with dancers mixing Irish dance and Irish music with contemporary pop and modern moves.
Villanova wore masks and danced to songs from Disney’s The Lion King and The Little Mermaid, John Hopkins University performed an energetic number to Meghan Trainor’s “All About the Bass,” and the Celtic Cardinals from the Catholic University of America twirled and skipped across the stage in nature-themed brown smocks and floral wreaths.
These exhibition-style performances represent one of the main activities of collegiate Irish dance, and that is to entertain an audience not necessarily concerned with a perfect eight-hand reel or a well-executed treble.
As well as performing for their local Irish communities, dancers put on shows at homecoming, sporting events, and wherever their schools will have them.
“Whenever they put on any events, they kind of ask us to perform because a lot of students are either unfamiliar with Irish dancing or they haven’t seen it before,” said Allison Wetterauw, the captain of the Celtic Cardinals. “They’re really rhythmic and different from the regular dance teams.”
This festival is so important because it’s designed as a place where people from all different dancing backgrounds, from experts who have been doing this their whole lives to comparatively new students of the art, can meet in friendly competition.
A common refrain when speaking with the captains and dancers was that many of the teams are fairly young and eager for a chance. Temple University’s team was started in 2009 and in last year’s competition they failed to place. This year, they won fifth place in the four hand and one of their dancers won third place in the intermediate treble reel.
“We weren’t really much of a team (last year),” said Colleen Burns, president of Temple’s team. “This year we worked really hard. And it paid off.”