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Spotlight on Collegiate Irish Dance Teams

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

colleges with Irish dance teams, Irish dancing in college

The introduction of collegiate Irish dance teams has created a great opportunity for Irish dancers. We caught up with of Mary Therese Lavelle from the Ohio State Irish Dance Team and Alanna O’Donnell from the Notre Dame St. Mary’s Irish Dance Team who have both been Irish dancing for as long as they can remember. When graduating high school, they knew they would not continue to compete but were not completely ready to give up dancing. So instead of hanging up their ghillies, Mary and Alanna joined their college Irish dance teams.

Read more about Mary Therese and Alanna, their experiences with a collegiate Irish dance team, and how you can become involved.

Mary Therese’s responses are in Ohio State's color, scarlet, and Alanna’s in Notre Dame blue.

How did you know you were done competing? Was it an easy decision?

Ohio State Irish Dance Team

MTL: “I think I had always planned to stop competing once I graduated high school. I ended up dancing through the summer and competing in my last competition in August before I left for school. It was a logical decision since OSU was two hours from my dance school, and I was not planning on keeping up with the practice regimen once I started classes. The fact that it was my last competition did not hit me until I was taking off my solo dress. I realized that I probably would not ever put it back on. I missed having practice and spending time with my friends, but luckily I joined the OSU team quickly after starting school which helped with the transition.”

AO: “I stopped competing the summer before I started college because I knew I would not be able to keep up with it as much as I did before. Before college, we would practice up to six days a week and I knew that was not going to be an option, especially with all the changes that come with going away to college. This was a fairly easy transition for me because I think I always knew I would stop competing once I got to college. So it was sort of anticipated.”

How and why did you join the Irish dance team?

Notre Dame/St. Mary's Irish Dance Team

MTL: “I ended up joining because a girl I had danced with when I was in novice told me about it at the beginning of the year. She signed me up for the organization and I went to the first practice. I remember calling my Mom and asking her to ship my shoes to me, I had not brought them to school because I did not even think about joining a team on campus. I joined because I honestly missed having dance in my life. It felt like something was missing. It was also a good way for me to make friends when starting college.”

AO: “Before visiting Saint Mary's, I knew that Notre Dame had an Irish Dance team and I think that influenced my decision to go to Saint Mary's because although I was done competing, I was not completely ready to give it up.”

What would you recommend to others who may be interested in joining an Irish dance team?

MTL: “My recommendation is that if you have had any experience with Irish dance whatsoever, consider joining your club team on campus. Our members vary in skill level, from dancers who quit when they were in 4th grade to dancers who are still competing at Oireachtas and Nationals. I know it may seem intimidating, but every team that I have had the opportunity to talk to opens their organizations to dancers of all skills and experiences. Collegiate Irish dancing is an opportunity to continue the tradition of dancing with performances and competitions without the level of intensity competing previously offers.”

AO: “I would absolutely recommend others to join an Irish Dance team in college. I really cannot imagine my college experience without being on the Irish Dance team and I have made some of my closest friends through being a part of the team. It is also fun getting to know Irish dancers from all over the country and becoming friends with girls who I used to compete with from different dance schools.”

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