The Sport And Passion Of Irish Dance
Like many Lakewood kids, Meghan Walcheck spends a lot of time and energy on her favorite sport. She spends many hours each week practicing, being coached, and competing. She’s even traveled out of town to competitions. Meghan doesn’t run track or play any of the traditional “stick and ball” sports – she is an Irish dancer.
Walcheck, a fifth-grader at Roosevelt Elementary, is one of the growing number of Irish dancers around town. Irish Dancing first found popularity in the mid/late 1990s, when Michael Flatley starred in productions like “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance.” Irish Dance gained mainstream attention during that time, and has kept a foothold in the United States.
Like many Irish dancers, Meghan began at a very young age. It was her dad’s idea to begin lessons at the age of five. “The most difficult part is when you first begin, learning the steps,” says Walcheck. She overcame the challenge and really began to enjoy it. “I like performing. I like my steps and getting to dance with my friends, and I love my teachers.” During the school year she takes two or three lessons per week at Brady Campbell School of Irish Dance. She spends at least one hour per day practicing, sometimes in unusual forms. For example, sometimes while shopping she’ll try some steps in an empty grocery store aisle.
Kim Walcheck, Meghan’s mom, is extremely supportive of her dancing. “Irish dance has given her discipline, helped her to recognize others' achievements/good sportsmanship, and given her a true sense of pride in her heritage,” says Kim. Like other “Irish Dance Moms,” she is kept busy with a wide variety of chores: giving rides to lessons, packing shoes and costumes for competitions and dance outs, helping with school fundraisers, and packing the dancers’ favorite food and beverages. The Walchecks have been able to balance Meghan’s Irish Dance with school work and other extracurriculars such as basketball and softball.
Meghan has competed in multiple Irish Dance competitions, which are called “feis.” These events are highly competitive, especially among older children and adults. Dancers refer to their activity as a “sport,” not an art or a hobby. As dancers move into their teens and adult years, additional work is needed on conditioning and technique. In many cases dancers become injured from the amount of hard work involved. That is another reason that participants refer to it as a sport. Meghan is undeterred by these obstacles, hoping to dance for many years.
Lakewood resident Molly Terranova is a longtime Irish dancer that can relate to Meghan’s enthusiasm. Molly first danced 17 years ago at age ten. Like many in the 1990s, she was inspired by seeing “Riverdance.” “I did love it right away,” she recalls. “There were so many things that kept me dancing for so long. The friendships I made, the competitiveness of the sport, the beauty and incredible technique of the steps. It just made me really happy dancing.” Through high school, college, work, and eventually marriage, her schedule was centered around dance. For example, during high school she ran track and jumped hurdles to build stamina and a high kick. She did pilates and yoga to build core strength, which helped her to reach the championship level.
Deb Sweeney, Molly’s mother, was with her during all her years of dance. She enjoyed Molly’s passion for the sport, as did her husband Mark. Mom was there through all the ups and downs – from broken bones to championship performances. “My job at the competitions was to support the dancer: snacks, sandwich, drinks, hold the dress, make sure all the parts of the costume are where they should be and nothing is going to fall off.” Deb’s most important role came when Molly was married a few years ago. Mom helped Molly choose an appropriate wedding gown – one that was light enough to dance a jib.
Marriage is still a long way off for young Meghan, but she is working hard to someday reach championship level. Just as Deb supported Molly, Kim plans to support Meghan in her pursuit. “There's no describing the amount of pride that myself, and all of us in the Irish dance world feel watching our kids dance,” says Kim. “Putting our daughter in the Brady Campbell School of Irish Dance has been the best decision that we have made for her.” Meghan emphatically agrees, “Being an Irish dancer is one of the best things in my life.”
Mike Deneen has extensive experience covering sports and community stories for the Lakewood Observer. Mike has been a Senior Industry Analyst for the Freedonia Group in Cleveland, Ohio, since 1998. He has appeared on CNBC’s Closing Bell, NPR’s MarketPlace and has been quoted multiple times in The Wall Street Journal. He has made multiple guest appearances on ESPN Cleveland radio. Mike also writes for Inside Northwestern, a website that covers Northwestern Wildcat Athletics. You can reach him on Twitter at @MikeDeneen1