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Irish dancers set the stage for holiday

By Barbara Christiansen daily Herald - | Mar 16, 2015
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Dancers from the Harp Irish Dance Company perform at the Provo City Library on Monday, March 16, 2015. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

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Dancers clap while others from the Harp Irish Dance Company perform at the Provo City Library on Monday, March 16, 2015. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

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Dancers from the Harp Irish Dance Company perform at the Provo City Library on Monday, March 16, 2015. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

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Dancers from the Harp Irish Dance Company perform at the Provo City Library on Monday, March 16, 2015. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

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Dancers from the Harp Irish Dance Company perform at the Provo City Library on Monday, March 16, 2015. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

PROVO — The right shade of green, corned beef and cabbage, and don’t forget Irish dancing — the perfect combination to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Harp Irish Dance Company provided the traditional dances of the Emerald Isle on Monday evening at the Provo Library. It wasn’t long before the crowd was clapping along with the Celtic music and the beat of the dancers’ shoes.

With high stepping, lots of energy and colorful costumes, there are about 40 members of the company, many of whom performed on St. Patrick’s Day Eve. Some were as young as 2; some moms joined their daughters in the celebration. They are regular members of the company, not just visitors.

“Harp has been around for nearly three years,” director Aubree Shelley said. “My mom was a folk dancer at BYU. We moved to northern California and there was an Irish troupe there. I joined when I was 6.”

She has been dancing ever since. She even has the red hair to go with the Irish dancing.

“I feel like I am carrying on a long tradition,” she said. “Irish dancing was originally taught by dancing masters. They would travel the countryside, would be hired by a village to teach dancing, etiquette and deportment. It eventually turned into the Gaelic Leagues, which kind of preserved Irish culture in the face of British occupation.”

That was in the early 1900s, Shelley said.

The culture hasn’t changed much, but today’s teachers are often certified by the Irish Dance Commission in Dublin. One of its purposes is to preserve traditional Irish dancing.

Shelley said the effort has been worth it.

“For me it is fun because it is not the run-of-the-mill dance that you see every day,” she said. “There are not immodest costumes or suggestive lyrics. It is wholesome.”

Watching the dancers, it might be easy to believe they have the dances in their blood, but that is not always the case.

“Some of the dancers have Irish heritage, but not all,” Shelley said. “They have been caught by the Irish fever.

“They are energetic, very passionate, bright and colorful. They have kind of evolved over time, with bright colors and Celtic patterns.”

Miriam Ware, 10, of Lehi is one of the newest to join the company.

“I had been wanting to do something for a long time,” she said. “We found this where we could do two for the price of one. So we decided to come and do it. It is really fun. It is good exercise.”

Mom Tracy Ware decided to join along with her daughter. Two mom-daughter teams joined at that time.

“We are doing it together,” Tracy Ware said. “We have fun together. She does it all over the house all day long.”

It’s not just fun, but it brings out the best in the participants, she said.

“I think they do a great job helping the girls to feel confident and good,” Tracy Ware said. “It is not really competitive. It is one of the first things she has actually taken to and wants to do it all the time.”

Elleka DeWall of Pleasant Grove has been with the group for more than four years. She is 12, so she started quite young.

“The best part is the dances,” she said. “They make me feel good.

“Me and my sister wanted to do dance. We looked up online and just signed up for it. We love it.”

Complicated footwork and fast pacing with lots of turns and twists can be a bit daunting.

“The hardest part is memorizing the dances,” Elleka said. “I practice at home. I made a chart at home.”

The work is worth it for the way she reacts.

“I feel happy when I am doing it.”

Elizabeth Jeffrey of American Fork was on hand to watch her daughter.

“I love it because it is more intimate and more like a family environment,” she said. “I also love the culture of it. This is so rich in culture and so modest and wholesome.”

While most of the participants are girls, there are also a few boys in the troupe.

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