Dancers bring Irish rhythm to retirement home residents

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Sat., Mar. 12, 2011
 Hardshoe dancers perform a "Riverdance"-like reel for residents of the Eliza Huntington Retirement Home in Norwich. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Hardshoe dancers perform a "Riverdance"-like reel for residents of the Eliza Huntington Retirement Home in Norwich. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

For most people, St. Patrick’s Day means wearing green, hanging up shamrocks and greeting friends with “top o’ the morning.”

For Irish dancers, though, it means a special form of “March madness.”

A troupe of step dancers from Spirited Soles Irish Dance Academy brought their Irish rhythm to Eliza Huntington Retirement Home in Norwich Mar. 12 – just one stop on their 15-day “whirlwind tour” of local schools, nursing homes and Irish pubs.

“My head is spinning,’ said Barbara Johnson, whose daughters Emily and Sarah were among the performers. “It’s always a whirlwind. We’re doing four shows today, 15 shows on Thursday and two next Saturday. We’re dancing till 9 o’clock every night. And we’re marching in the parade in Mystic on the 20th.”

Johnson’s daughter, Sarah, 7, is a newbie on the troupe, which danced at a fund raiser at New London’s Crocker House, complete with bagpipes. “It was so loud,” she said. “But we got free food.”

Residents at the home for senior women enjoyed a half-hour-long performance that spanned the level from beginner’s jig to the rhythmic hard-shoe reel steps made popular by “Riverdance.”  

Students from the dance school in Montville have performed in the string of St. Patrick’s Day shows for the past 10 years at least, said Spirited Soles owner and dance teacher Lisa Santacroce. The faces, and sometimes the steps, may change from year to year, but the girls enjoy the performances, she said.

The tiny pre-beginners, age 4 and 5, usually steal the show. “It’s so sweet,” said Santacroce. “At the beginning of the year, their arms are all over the place. Sometimes they fall on the floor. It does take a long time, because their feet move fast. This is their first show.” She coached the little ones as they stepped forward in pairs and performed eight bars of a jig step.

But the older and more experienced dancers got to show their stuff, too. Dressed in colorful, sparkly costumes and curly wigs, they went through elaborate figure dances in groups, as well as “step down the line,” where each girl or boy stepped forward to perform a short solo.

Santacroce explained that beginner girls perform in their specially-designed “school dress,” decorated with Celtic knotwork embroidery.

Most of the dancers compete at feisiana (Irish dance competitions), where wins move them up the ranks from beginner through prizewinner to champion levels. Once past novice level, girls may wear a solo dress that they have helped design, often heavily festooned with crystals and sequins. The fancy solo dresses drew delighted oohs and ahs from the audience.

“This is wonderful,” said Judy Schadler, the recreation director at Eliza Huntington. She said that the Spirited Soles dancers have appeared at the retirement home regularly during the last 10 years. “The ladies love it.”

Residents clapped along with the music as the dancers performed. After their performance, the dancers visited with the residents, presenting them with Mardi Gras beads and other small gifts. In exchange, the girls were treated to cookies.

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