By Ashley Mackin
Stacey Haerr believes that certain sports attract certain types of personalities. In the case of Irish dancing, which her daughter Margaret, a student at La Jolla High School does competitively, these people are disciplined, organized, professional, poised, committed and well mannered.
After 11 years of Irish dancing, Margaret Haerr exemplifies all these traits — and more. She is ready to compete in the World Irish Dancing Championships in Boston on March 29.
“It’s considered an honor to just go. Most people at my dance school have never been, so it’s exciting to attend with my team and just be there,” Margaret said. “Usually the World Championships is held in Ireland, so we don’t get the chance to go, this is only the second time it’s been held in the United States.”
In preparing for the competition, Margaret practices with her dance team at the Malone Academy of Irish Dance for about six hours a week; add to that, more practice at home. She has to be in La Mesa by 6 a.m. on most days so that the eight- member team can rehearse and still have time to get to school. If they can’t organize a morning practice, they rehearse at night.
Her interest was sparked after a family trip to Ireland where Margaret watched children her age dancing. “I thought it looked cool,” she said. She also saw the show, “Riverdance,” and felt further compelled.
Margaret participates in a competitive troupe, a traditional dance troupe, and a show troupe, and also dances solo. Her competitive group dances in contests across Southern California about once a month. They also perform in regional contests to qualify for nationals and the World Championships. In this group, they perform a contemporary version of Irish dancing.
The uniforms get more exciting as the competitive level goes up. For non-competitive shows, such as ones they do on St. Patrick’s Day, the team wears a black velvet slip dress. For competitions, they wear red, black and white dresses with Celtic designs. For solo performances, they wear bright, neon, flashy dresses with crystals that are made just for them because they must fit perfectly.
The solo dresses cannot be washed, so they are only worn onstage.
“You don’t wear it downstairs waiting to dance (you wear a leotard and shorts) and right before you go on stage, you slip it on, then you dance, and as soon as you get off, you take the dress off,” she said.
All the time, energy and financial commitment involved with the sport are worth it to Margaret. “When you are dancing, and you know you’re dancing really well, it feels like you are floating. It feels good ... and you bond with the other people you are with,” she said. “It’s a lot of exercise and really tiring, especially in solo dancing. You are doing so much jumping and skipping that you are drenched with sweat. Some people think you’re just standing and tapping your feet, but it’s a lot of movement across the stage.”
For as good as it makes her feel, Margaret knows she won’t be Irish dancing forever. After the World Championships, she will only dance for fun. “It starts to hurt the dancers’ ankles and toes, and at a certain point, you really can’t physically do it any more, it’s just too much.”
Going forward, Margaret said she’s excited about attending a college in the UC system to study biology.