Walker Loves Everything About Irish Dance
Even though Alice Walker has a bit of Irish heritage, she says you don’t need to be Irish to love Irish Dance. A seasoned performer, Alice recently received a highly competitive arts award, and she and her dance team are hoping to compete on the Emerald Isle itself by representing the USA at the World Championships in April.
Alice, a junior at Daniel Hand High School, is already a decade into her love of this unique art form, which she was introduced to way back in kindergarten. A chance performance at her school imprinted a deep passion in this ancient form of expression for Alice.
“I’m part Irish, but that really has nothing to do with how I got into it. It started when I was in kindergarten and, for St. Patrick’s Day, they had someone come in and teach us a jig...and I just loved it,” says Alice. “I loved it and so my parents said, ‘Oh, do you want to try dancing?’ and I did, and I was instantly hooked.”
Alice and her family previously lived in western Connecticut, where she trained and took classes for many years. When the family moved to Madison, Alice maintained her connection to the studio. Alice currently dances competitively for the Harney Pender Keady Academy of Irish Dance in Stamford, commuting to the studio multiple times a week to hone her skills during competition season.
“It really depends on what the time of year is, if it’s leading into a major competition or not, but can get up to three of four days a week,” Alice says.
Irish Dance features several different forms and styles, and is most known for its classic armless technique. Alice says that style is incredibly difficult to master and requires a great deal of athleticism, but she embraces the challenge and enjoys the experience at her studio.
“The classes are so much fun. I have a great community at my studio, and I’ve made a ton of great friends there. And I love the competitions. They keep me very motivated and, it’s really exciting to track your places and reach your goal,” says Alice. “It’s a challenge to dance without using your arms. You need to really work on your core strength and even your arm strength. You wouldn’t expect that, because you move your feet so much, but to move your feet without using your arms really is a challenge.”
The COVID-19 pandemic dashed a lot of dreams, and one of those was Alice and her dance team’s wish to compete in Ireland. The troupe from Stamford that she competes with had their trip canceled at the last minute in 2020 and again in 2021. Now, that opportunity to finally make it to Ireland this year has Alice feeling both nervous and excited.
“The World Championship was going to be held in Ireland my freshman years, and I qualified. I was super excited to go, all of us were, but unfortunately, they canceled it that year and last year as well,” Alice says. “But fingers crossed for this year and that it’s still on for this year in Belfast.”
The origins of today’s Irish dancing have been lost to the mists of time. Though records of dancing in Ireland go back to as early as the 7th century, definitive proof of the “Irish jigs of Galway” begin to appear in the written record in the early 15th century, and the dance we know today appears to have been fully formed and practiced by the early 1700s. Alice says dancing is exciting for her because of the physical and mental fitness that is required to excel in this discipline.
Alice recently received the 2022 YoungArts Award in World Dance: Irish Step—a huge honor for any young artist. Alice was recognized at the merit level and joins 720 of the most accomplished young visual, literary, and performing artists from throughout the country. YoungArts Award winners become eligible for exclusive creative and professional development support, including a wide range of fellowships, residencies, awards, and microgrants. Entrance into the organization starts with a highly competitive application process for talented artists ages 15 to 18 or in grades 10 to 12 in the United States.
Alice feels beyond honored about being chosen to receive the award.
“It’s definitely an honor. It’s a great community to be a part of outside the Irish dance community,” says Alice. “It is really exciting. We had heard about it, because it’s such a great program and such a great organization, so I figured I’d apply. So, I took a video of myself dancing at my studio, and I found out I got an award, which was really an exciting moment.”
As a big supporter for Irish Dance, Alice encourages anyone who’s looking for a challenging alternative to other sports and art programs to give it a shot.
“I would recommend it, definitely. I love Irish Dance. It’s my passion,” Alice says. “It consumes my thoughts when I’m thinking about my future goals or when’s the next time I’m going to practice or thinking about my choreography. It’s a great community. You meet great friends. It teaches you a lot of great life skills through the competitions and the practicing. It’s a really great thing to be a part of.”