by Christy Dorrity, Feis America LLC

The Blackbirds Irish Dance Group at Wooster College
Photo courtesy The Blackbirds

Blackbirds come to roost at The College of Wooster in Wooster; Ohio - Irish dancing Blackbirds, that is!  Haley Close from The Blackbird Irish dance group agreed to tell Christy Dorrity from Feis America a little about the collegiate group that is created and run by students.

Feis America: Tell me about your collegiate Irish dance program--how many people are involved, what types of classes are offered, what types of certifications/endorsements are available as part of the program?

The Blackbirds: A student, Jesse Hoselton, who named the group The Blackbirds after the joint Scottish-Irish forces who fought the British, created the group in 2004. Since our college still emphasizes the Scottish arts, it was perfect! We explore all types of Irish dance including hardshoe and soft shoe dances, traditional Ceili dances, and a variety of dances choreographed by us students. Most of the dancers learned Irish dance at Wooster and have not had formal training, but the experienced dancers teach and lead the others. The Blackbirds' sister group, the Baby Birds, is a beginner group for incoming dancers. We usually average about 10 members, but we’ve had close to 20 members in past years. None of us are certified TCRGs so our focus is on performing and enjoying Irish dance. Basically, we do it for fun!

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Feis America: Where and for who to you perform?

The Blackbirds: We perform at different events on campus throughout the academic year, primarily for other students, though we have also performed at wedding receptions in the local area. We typically put on a recital each semester. Our college hosts a Diversity Fair and various Scottish arts festivals that we dance at. This year we organized a St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the campus bar/club and performed then as well. It was great to have the student body participating in some of the ceilis!

Feis America: Can beginners take classes at the collegiate level? The Blackbirds: Any student is welcome to join our group, regardless of whether they have past experience. In fact, we’ve had many talented dancers who never Irish danced until they came to Wooster. We encourage everybody who is interested to try it!

The Blackbirds pose before a performance.
Photo courtesy The Blackbirds..

Feis America: What reception do you receive when you perform at college functions?

The Blackbirds: We are always very well received when we perform on campus. I think Irish dance in general makes for fantastic performances and here it’s no different. We have a lot of freedom in our shows, so we can get pretty creative. Any choreography that we do to music from the Boondock Saints movie always draws a crowd! We just had a performance in our student center where we caused a traffic jam of sorts because students stopped on the stairs trying to catch a glimpse of our treble reel. After the show, I heard one student ask her friend, “Did you see how high they can kick?”

Feis America: Do you have contact with Irish dance programs at other colleges or universities?

The Blackbirds: Unfortunately, we aren’t in contact with any similar groups. I’d love to look into it though.

Feis America: Do your dancers go on to perform professionally, compete or teach in Irish dancing?

The Blackbirds: Our founder is currently studying for her TCRG exam and she started competing again in her home region after she graduated from Wooster. Another one of our former members just returned from competing at the All-Irelands in Dublin. She is teaching dance as well. From what I’ve heard, a lot of our former dancers are still dancing for fun. I just saw pictures of Blackbird alumni performing at a friend’s wedding!

Feis America: What do you envision for adult Irish dancers in the future?

The Blackbirds: I think our group is proof that Irish dance is open to anyone! We have members dancing treble reels who didn’t know what a hard shoe was a few years ago. When we’re together—practicing or even watching “Lord of the Dance” or “Jig” — we aren’t really worried about making careers out of Irish dance or competing at the international level, even though some of our members have. We mostly concern ourselves with having fun and sharing the company of others who love Irish dance. An Irish dancing career definitely doesn’t have to end once you reach a certain age. To me, that’s what makes Irish dance so special. On stage, at a St. Patrick’s Day parade, or even at a pub, when the music starts, I’m always amazed at who can roll up their jeans and pick up a step right where they left off.

Feis America: Thank you very much Haley. Good luck to The Blackbirds!

Readers: Are you involved in Irish dance on the collegiate level? Will your choice of college be influenced by the availability of an Irish dance program?  Please share!

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