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Every day is St. Patrick’s Day
for the members of Northeastern’s
award-winning Irish Dance Club

Three people dance while wearing heavies and black leggings.
Students in the Irish Dance Club tap in hard shoes known for producing the percussive waves of energy in “Riverdance.” Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Reels and jigs set to traditional music will be on the menu when Northeastern’s award-winning Irish Dance Club celebrates the approach of St. Patrick’s Day with performances near the Boston campus this month.

St. Patrick’s Day is special, club president Regan Murphy says. “That’s when we go and dance with live music.”

“We get to showcase our dancing to friends and the general public.  We perform to have fun, and enthusiastic audiences are the best – they clap along and they love our dance to Shipping Up to Boston,” she says.

But expect something a little different at the National Collegiate Irish Dance competition in New York in April, when collegiate dancers are encouraged to choreograph an Irish dance around non-traditional songs and themes.

Last spring, Northeastern’s Irish Dance Club placed third at the inaugural competition with a “fun number” based on a “101 Dalmatians” theme. 

“I’m always trying to make sure people are having fun and enjoying themselves because Irish dance can get really intense,” says Murphy, a fourth-year computer science and biology major. She estimates the club is about seven years old.

The club’s 22 members are a combination of former Irish dance high school competitors and newcomers who want to learn how to master turnouts, hops and clicks in a soft shoe called ghillies and a hard shoe known as heavies — the kind that produces the waves of percussive energy popularized in “Riverdance.”

Video by Cameron Sleeper/Northeastern University

“I love teaching the beginners,” Murphy says. “We will take anyone that’s interested, with any sort of dance background, and teach them. We’ve had people that have only done tap learning hard shoes because it’s very similar in terms of rhythms.”

She says the club has reignited her love of Irish dance, which tapered off a bit after she was sidelined by a dance-related injury in high school.

“At one point, I was dancing six days a week, with competitions, sometimes seven,” Murphy says. “It was such a part of my life I never thought I would stop sooner than I absolutely had to.”

“Our dance teachers used to have us hold paper between our arms and our bodies to keep our arms from moving while we were dancing around,” says Murphy, whose grandfather and great grandfather competed in Irish dance contests.

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“We used sponges,” says Sarah Bradburn, events coordinator for the club and a fifth-year computer science and physics major.

“I love how our club is just focused on the dancing and getting to dance together,” Bradburn says. “It’s not as intense as it was in high school, but it’s definitely exercise.”

“People who fell out of love with dance get to join in and rediscover that passion again,” says Irish Dance Club vice president Amelia Maybrun, a third-year health science and psychology major. 

“That’s what happened to me,” she says. In fact, after dropping out of Irish dance in high school, the club experience at Northeastern was so inspiring that Maybrun decided to compete with her old school in California, via Zoom, as well. She will be going to the world championships in Glasgow, Scotland, this month.

In addition to practices, intercollegiate competitions and twice annual performances with the Northeastern University Dance Company (NUDANCO), Northeastern’s Irish Dance Club members get together about once a month for a movie or game night and pizza.

“At this point, we all know each other really well. So you just get to hang out with your friends for an hour or two,” Bradburn says.

“It’s just to build that sense of community outside of dance,” Murphy says. “We don’t have a huge club. But people are pretty committed.”

Four Northeastern’s Irish Dance Club members dance together in a line outside.
Toes turned out in soft shoes, members of Irish Dance Club demonstrate a leap. “It’s definitely exercise,” one member says. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Even though intercollegiate Irish dancing is lower key than other competitions, Murphy says her goal is to have Northeastern’s club move up through the intercollegiate ranks.

The club came in third out of 12 college and university dance teams at the National Irish Collegiate Dance Championships at Iona University last spring with its “101 Dalmatians” theme and will compete again April 6.

I’m always trying to make sure people are having fun and enjoying themselves because Irish dance can get really intense.

Regan Murphy, a fourth-year computer science and biology major

Club members have danced to Pitbull and Bartrees Strange for NUDANCO’s biannual showcases and wore Barbie pink for a fall competition at Villanova University.

“We did a Barbie-themed number because the movie had just come out. It was more creative than traditional Irish dance choreography,” Murphy says.

“There’s this new culture of Irish dance,” Bradburn says. “There are a lot of traditional aspects, but it’s also developed into its own thing.”

The next performances by the club will be 6:30 p.m. on March 14 at Two Saints Tavern (52 Gainsborough St.) and 6:30 p.m. March 15 at The Bebop (1116 Boylston St.).