Loyola’s Irish Dance Team brings a little bit of Ireland to Evergreen

By Rita Buettner  |  Photos by Rita Buettner

When Christina Taylor decided to attend Loyola University Maryland, she hoped there would be an Irish dancing group on campus. She had been dancing since she was 5 and had been president of her high school Irish dancing club.

“I love the fast feet, the shoes—all of it,” said Taylor, a first-year accounting major from White Plains, N.Y.

So she was thrilled when she found a table advertising the Loyola Irish Dance Team at the Student Activities Fair.

It’s a young club for Loyola, started last year by Alessia Hughes, ’20. But in just its second year, the club has a core group of advanced dancers, as well as a committed group of beginners who are learning their first steps as Loyola students.

“The beginners have picked it up really fast,” said Claire Hammerschmidt, ’19, who serves as co-president role with Hughes and Jessa Cooperman, ’19.

Hammerschmidt, who competed at the World Irish Dancing Championships in Boston as a high school student from Syracuse, N.Y., had helped her dance teacher do some teaching in the past and leads the teaching with the beginners.

“It was definitely difficult at first,” said Mary Kate Buckman, ’20, who heard about the group from Hughes and decided to try dancing for the first time last year. “I like that it’s serious enough that we can perform, but it’s so much fun to come to rehearsals.”

Hughes has enjoyed watching the group grow. She had been dancing competitively and for fun since she was 5 years old.

“All of a sudden after leaving for college, I was no longer dancing for hours every day,” she said. “I missed it and wanted to dance with other people. I knew many colleges have big Irish step clubs and perform around their campuses, so I felt like it would be a cool addition to the Loyola campus.”

Hughes invited people to join through Loyola Today, her class’s Facebook page, and a table at the Student Activities Fair, and she found out she wasn’t the only one who wanted to dance.

The group danced last year at Relay For Life, and they’ll make a repeat appearance at Relay on March 17. They’re also performing at The Port Public House in downtown Baltimore on St. Patrick’s Day, and they have a performance in Loyola’s Reading Room scheduled for April 14.

The experienced dancers come from different states and have different backgrounds. They find they have different words for the same steps. But they have learned one another’s vocabularies. And even the experienced dancers continue to learn.

Last summer Cooperman attended the Riverdance Summer School, bringing back knowledge that has helped the group in new choreography for this semester. Cooperman taught the other dancers the famous dance “Reel Around the Sun.”

“Jessa challenged us to become stronger dancers which was a great experience for us,” Hughes said.

At a recent afternoon practice, the dancers worked together critiquing and planning their dances, encouraging one another, and sharing excitement about their upcoming performances.

When the music starts, they’re focused and on their toes, dancing in unison, hands on their hips, moving around one another. They might have different majors and come to Loyola from different cities, but they all share a love of Irish dance.

“I love the teamwork,” Hammerschmidt said. “It’s a team sport, but there’s individual achievement.”

Hammerschmidt discovered Irish dance herself when she was 7. “I was playing at a friend’s house, and it was time for me to go home. She had to go to Irish dance,” she said. “So I went along. She gave it up a few weeks later, and I kept dancing.”

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