Audrey Dwyer: Steamboat Pilot & Today reporter goes to Irish dance class to revisit her roots |

Audrey Dwyer: Steamboat Pilot & Today reporter goes to Irish dance class to revisit her roots

— What is St. Patrick’s Day, really?

Some believe it to be a holiday of parades, green in almost every shade, beer— mainly Guinness downed in copious amounts — and corned beef and cabbage with soda bread as the day’s festive meal.

In Ireland however, it’s a day when the pubs actually close down, and everyone goes to church. It honors St. Patrick known as the “Apostle of Ireland” who used the shamrock as an illustrative parable. At least that is what I was told in stories passed down from generation to generation in my family of Irish descent — my freckles and pale skin are evidence of this heritage.

When Irish immigrants traveled to America, the holiday transitioned into a celebration of Irish-American culture. The meaning of this holiday is different for everyone, but growing up making soda bread, chasing far-fetched beliefs about leprechauns as a little girl and Irish dancing are a few of the traditions that I remember most.

In an attempt to return to my Irish roots, I rediscovered the Irish jig.

For about two years, the Steamboat branch of Denver’s Bennett School of Irish Dance gives kids and adults the opportunity to take part in a wide variety of classes for all ability levels. In addition, many of the dancers compete all over the Front Range.

“I love that you can just be a part of the Irish culture, and you don’t have to be Irish to love it,” said Lauren Davison, who moved here in the fall to be the new instructor for the classes in Steamboat. “So many people are intrigued by the fast movement, the footwork or even just the music.”

Last week, I attended the beginner adult class that takes place at Excel Gymnastics of Steamboat Springs from 6:45 to 8 p.m. every Thursday. Davison started the night by explaining the posture — arms at your side, chin up, core engaged, chest out and legs in the turn-out position (backs of the knees touching). As we went through the initial steps of “soft shoe” with the basic three’s, over the bridges and jump two-threes, we were ready to put those steps to traditional Irish music — hornpipes, Uilleann pipes and all.

Although it was initially hard to keep up, I soon remembered a few of the steps from my childhood, something many of the other dancers in the class also related to.

“I can really feel this music. Even if I hadn’t danced it in awhile, it all comes back,” said Katy Kriz, who grew up Irish dancing and was reacquainted with it through the local dance classes. “With Irish dance, I feel more free about it, and it allows me to feel connected to my heritage.”

Irish dancing is a fluid movement that is high energy and fast paced. It comes from technical steps passed down through generations and various dance schools. Davidson explained that the precise movement has the ability to strengthen a dancer’s legs and core in addition to enhancing motor coordination and endurance.

With Davidson as the new instructor for the branch in Steamboat, she hopes for more Irish dance performances at various venues around town with live accompaniment instead of recorded music.

“An Irish dancer’s dream is dancing to live music,” Davidson said. “We are trying to rejuvenate the program and do more performances with the local Irish band.”

On Tuesday — St. Patrick’s Day — the younger dancers dressed in costumes with Celtic embroidery and curly-haired wigs will be at Casey’s Pond at 4 p.m. for a special show . McKnight’s Irish Pub and Loft will also host a number of events throughout the day, including the St. Patrick’s Day Dance Party with DJ Leprechaun at 9 p.m.

Irish or not, it’s a holiday to celebrate or maybe an excuse to drink a Guinness.

Erin go Bragh and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1

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