Student dancers are excited to open for international company

Black and white photo of Trinity performers on stage with younger children. They are wearing traditional Irish Dance outfits

“You’ll see a lot of energy on stage, dancers of all ages, from beginners to experienced.”


Local students from Trinity Academy of Irish Dance are polishing their shoes and getting their smiles ready for their performance in Overture Hall as the opening act for international sensation Trinity Irish Dance Company on Thursday, April 21.

“We have been practicing our dances and working on stage confidence since December for our spring season and are excited for the unique opportunity to perform at Overture Center,” said Irish dancer and assistant teacher Maggie Underwood, a junior at Sun Prairie High School.

The students last performed at Overture Center on Saturday, March 7, 2020, as part of the Kids in the Rotunda series. Trinity Academy has such a large fan base that the performance was moved from Rotunda Stage to Overture Hall Lobby to accompany the crowds. Some student dancers also participated in the opening act for Trinity Irish Dance Company when the worldwide touring group last performed here in March 2016.

Mastering the rapid leg movements and precise feet movements of Irish dance is difficult, but Underwood says the key to getting better is “practice, practice, practice.” She follows her own advice, practicing three times a week by herself, participating in one class with her peers and teaching younger students on other days, which equals almost daily practice.

Underwood began taking dance lessons when she was three years old. While she started briefly with ballet, she quickly made the move to Irish dance after seeing a Trinity Academy performance at Milwaukee Irish Fest. She fell in love with Irish dance, and her parents signed her up for lessons. She advanced to teaching at age 12 and now thrives on sharing her favorite art form with children.

Head instructor Danielle Dawson at the Madison studio says Trinity Academy has an incredible mentorship program.

Like Underwood, she was awe-struck after seeing a school performance of Irish dancers at Milwaukee Irish Fest. She started lessons with Trinity Academy at age eight and became an assistant teacher at age 12. She continued dancing through high school and rejoined the studio once she graduated college. She has served as one of the head teachers for nearly 10 years.

“It’s cool to see little dancers don their first pair of ghillies (shoes) and watch as they advance into teaching roles,” said Dawson. “My favorite part of being a teacher is seeing kids gain confidence and bloom on stage while sharing their love for dance with others.”

Trinity Academy of Irish Dance was founded in 1982 by Mark Howard, who is the artistic director of Trinity Irish Dance Company. Both organizations share the mission of elevating children, the community and the world through the power and grace of Irish dance. The school, which has the unrivaled distinction of winning more titles than all other American Irish dance schools, has locations throughout Illinois and Wisconsin.

Dancers at Trinity Academy can choose their own level of participation, based on their passion and commitment.

“Some students perform within their communities, while others in the traveling ensemble learn how to work together as a team and collaborate with artists around the world,” said Dawson. “Students at the competition level participate in competitions, including the world championship in Belfast this spring.”

Sarah Ann Huber, a junior at Middleton High School, has danced with Trinity Academy for 10 years and has served as a “driller” or teaching assistant for the past four years. She participates in Trinity Academy’s performance and competition teams, practicing 3-6 times a week, depending on the season.

“I love it all!” said Huber in a conversation via Zoom from Ireland where had been competing. “I like preparing for competition, working hard toward a goal. It’s also very fun to perform in the community and to teach the little ones. We have a great dance community in Madison, and I love being a part of it.”

Trinity Academy’s peak performance season is March—around St. Patrick’s Day—but they do late spring and summer shows, too.

Guests at Trinity Academy’s Overture performance will see about 100 Madison-area students (ages 3 and up) perform a 30-minute set, which includes 15-20 mini performances in a variety of hard and soft shoe dances. The Trinity Irish Dance Company takes the stage at 7:30 p.m.

“We’re thrilled to watch people we grew up with, our former members and teachers, perform in the professional company,” said Dawson. “And we’re so excited to open the show in Overture Hall.”

Dawson, Underwood and Huber and all the dancers at Trinity Academy encourage Irish dance fans to come to Overture for their performance on April 21 at 7 p.m. And if you’ve never seen Irish dance, come to the show, and, they say, you’re sure to fall in love with it.

“Irish dance is super fun to watch!” said Huber. “You’ll see a lot of energy on stage, dancers of all ages, from beginners to experienced. We’ll perform dances in soft shoes, known as ghillies, with lots of jumping and high kicks, and dances in hard shoes with loud tapping sounds. We love performing, and it shows!”

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