CHICAGO — Irish dancers across Chicago are gearing up for a particularly special St. Patrick’s Day weekend after two years off from performances.
Many dancers haven’t been able to perform to a large audience for years due to the pandemic, as Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day parades and major events were canceled in 2020 and 2021. But they’ll return this Saturday and Sunday, giving Irish dancers time to shine.
“I like getting all dressed up and dancing in front of crowds,” said Violet Zinck, 10, a member of the O’Hara School of Irish Dance. “I’m really excited to dance in front of people. I’m looking forward to actually seeing people’s reactions to the dancing because a lot of people don’t really watch Irish dancing normally.”
Zinck and dancers from O’Hara and four other Irish dance schools will perform during the Irish American Heritage Center St. Patrick’s Day Festival from 1-11 p.m. Saturday at the center, 4626 N. Knox Ave. They’ll perform at the center’s Mayfair Theater and Fifth Province Pub.
The festivities feature contemporary Irish music, food and drink, in addition to Irish dancing, according to the center’s website.
The O’Hara dancers will also perform at the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, 1140 W. Jackson Blvd., and in shows at fish fries, pubs and assisted living homes across the city.
This year’s St. Patrick’s Day Day shows will be the “final hurrah” for senior dancer Sophie Puszynski, who is part of the O’Hare Irish Dance troupe. She’s danced for 13 years, and this is her last year on the team.
Unlike dance competitions, the St. Patrick’s Day shows aren’t stressful, Puszynski said.
They’re a “time to be with each other and have fun during the show,” Puszynski said. “I love watching the crowd clapping as we’re dancing. It’s exciting for me to see everybody’s reactions.
“We make them happy, and it’s exciting for us.”
COVID-19 canceled most of Puszynski’s St. Patrick’s Day shows and some competitions last year. Her team continued to practice virtually, but not being able to be with her instructors and fellow dancers “definitely dampened [her] mood,” she said.
Puszynski’s family installed a small stage in the garage for her to practice, but “dancing in front of a small computer screen” and “being secluded” stripped her of “that actual dance experience,” Puszynski said.
Trinity Academy of Irish Dance team also will perform at the heritage center and in the Downtown parade.
Sinead Bunting, the 15-year-old show captain for the squad, started Irish dancing when she turned 4. This year marks a decade of her dancing in St. Patrick’s Day shows. She helps organize and run her team’s performances — and she loves performing at parades, she said.
Aside from performing in the Downtown parade, Bunting said dancing at a Chicago Blackhawks game earlier this week was a major thrill. Trinity brought 150 dancers to perform before the game and during time-outs.
Returning to the United Center was “particularly joyful” for the Trinity crew, team manager Michaela Donohue said. The group was scheduled to perform there in 2020 just before the NHL shutdown.
Though their shows over the past year were limited, performing “outside of hospitals, assisted living and nursing care centers to provide some sense of happiness and joy to the hearts to first responders felt very meaningful,” Donohue said.
“Trinity’s mission is to elevate our dancers, families and our community through the power and grace of Irish dance,” Donohue said. “We couldn’t create or distribute a vaccine, but we can make people’s lunch hour happier.”
After 35 years with the Trinity Academy, Donohue’s 12-year-old daughter is following in her footsteps, as well.
“It’s really, really special to see her back with her friends and smiling on a jumbotron or at other events,” Donohue said.
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