What does March Madness mean to you? To most people, it involves college basketball tournaments with teams, brackets, and the final four. But to Irish dancers, it takes on a whole new meaning. Throughout March, the dancers of Ridgewood Irish Dance are requested to perform every weekend, and some weekdays, at various St. Patrick’s Day events. They have danced at various corporate events, parades, and multiple times on television.
For Irish dancers, St. Patrick’s Day starts at the end of February and continues until mid-April. Lists of performances start piling up and different groups of dancers who all know the same choreography are sent out to dance at different events. The routines are already memorized and practiced by the dancers, and they enjoy performing them at each event. “We have a lot of dances that we know really well, so it’s fun to choose which ones to perform at each event,” says RHS sophomore Elizabeth McLaughlin, who was ranked 25th in the Age-14 division at the Irish dance World Championships held in Dublin in April of 2018.
Usual St. Patrick’s Day performances include scattered libraries, nursing homes, and restaurants in Northern New Jersey. But there are always a few that are very memorable. In 2017, the Ridgewood Irish Dancers got the chance to teach former New York Giants player Bobby Hart a few steps at the Hackensack University Medical Center Powered by the Giants. They also perform annually at political events such as the Passaic County Board of Freeholders, and even got the opportunity to dance at Carnegie Hall in January of 2018. In 2017 and 2018, performance groups were invited to record for an episode of Wonderama, a reboot of a popular children’s variety show. A group of dancers perform at the West-Point Military Academy Tattoo, which is a bagpipe competition held in mid-April. Last March, group of eight dancers performed live on Good Day New York on Fox-5, which included students from Ridgewood High School.
In the midst of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, for the past two years, the Ridgewood Irish dancers have been intensely training for the World Championships held in Ireland each year in early to mid April. The preparation requires spending four days a week at the studio and balancing local performances and practicing. In 2018, many RHS students returned with impressive titles, including seniors Grace McLaughlin, who came in seventh in the Age-17 category, Jack Gatens placing 5th in the Age-16 Boys category, and Julia Mastrangelo achieving second place in Age-16.
Despite the busy schedule that St. Patrick’s Day brings, Irish dancers enjoy the holiday wholeheartedly. It’s a day when not only their culture, but what they love to do, is celebrated by everyone, even people who aren’t necessarily Irish. In fact, lots of Irish dancers aren’t Irish themselves, but that doesn’t stop them from celebrating as well. While St. Patrick’s Day is a short holiday for most, Irish dancers enjoy every minute of their month-long celebration.
Graphic: Grace McLaughlin