DUMONT, N.J. — Irish dancer Caileigh Hennessy of Ramsey stepped off the rehearsal platform at St. Mary’s in Dumont and wiped the sweat from her brow.
She and the other dancers of the famed McLoughlin School of Irish Dance have been practicing up a storm.
“We’re getting ready for our own ‘March Madness,’” said the 10-year-old, grinning widely.
That would be St. Patrick’s Day and the month’s worth of parades and performances that come with it.
The dancers learn and practice at other New Jersey locations, too, in Allendale, Fair Lawn and Newton.
The McLoughlin School, started in 1968, is run by three siblings: Patsy Early McLoughlin of Ridgefield Park; her sister, Karen Conway of Ridgefield Park, and her brother, Jimmy Early of Stony Point, N.Y.
Their mother and father, who hailed from Counties Mayo and Leitrium, respectively, started all three of them early in dancing and music.
“We’re teaching second-generation dancers now, in some cases,” said Patsy McLoughlin, who is certified by the Commission on Irish Dancing in Dublin to teach and dance.
The school teaches traditional dance.
“In traditional Irish dancing, you keep your arms down by your sides,” McLoughlin explained.
“In competition, a dancer’s carriage has to be perfectly straight. It’s all the footwork they’re graded on.”
Modern professional Irish dancing, such as the ‘Riverdance’ and ‘Lord of the Dance’ shows, are an extension of the traditional style, she explained.
In modern dance, the arms are used as well as the feet.
For the dancers and their parents, the dance is a significant part of their lives.
“Irish dancing allows me to never lose touch with my heritage,” said Kristen Carolan, 16, of New Milford, whose grandparents are from Ireland.
“I’m really proud to be able to dance.”
Ten-year-old Evelyn McGowan of Glen Rock has been dancing half her life.
“It’s very fun!’ she said. “I am 100 percent Irish and my parents thought this dancing was more cultural so they signed me up for it.”
Caileigh Hennessy’s mom, Carrie Hennessy, called the music touching.
“My dad just loves watching Caileigh dance. It’s emotional,” she said. “For us, that’s what makes this dance different from other dances.”
The McLoughlin dancers will perform at two area St. Patrick’s Day parades — 2 p.m. March 12 in Bergenfield and 1 p.m. March 25 in Ringwood .
On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, different groups of dancers will perform at:
- 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. at Tommy Fox’s Public House in Bergenfield ;
- 4:30 p.m. at Poitin Still in Hackensack ;
- 5:30 p.m. at the Twin Door Tavern in Maywood .
March is always an exciting time, McLoughlin said.
But for the most serious dinners who compete, the dancing requires thrice-weekly dance sessions and a constant fitness regimen.
“For us,” she said, “the dancing goes on year round.”