Villanova Hosts First Intercollegiate Irish Dance Festival

The Villanova Irish Dance Team at practice.

The Villanova Irish Dance Team at practice.

The idea started small, but soon got pretty big. More than just big. It’s apparently a first.

Villanova’s Irish Dance Team will host an Intercollegiate Irish Dance Festival Saturday from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. at the university’s Jake Nevin Fieldhouse. Nine college and university dance teams from around the country will strut their stuff in a sanctioned competition.

When they first started talking about an Irish dance competition last semester, members of the Villanova team first thought such an event might be confined to Irish dancers who attend the university.

Then they thought: let’s really go for it.

“We wanted to do something different,” says senior Mattie Rowan, co-captain of the team from Albany, N.Y., and a double major in poli sci and Arab & Islamic Studies. “We started getting the idea in motion over the summer, and we really got going with it at the beginning of this semester. We are fairly certain that this is the first intercollegiate dance festival within North America. There are still competitions where individual dancers can compete, but in terms of university teams, this is the first of its kind.”

Turns out the Villanova dancers weren’t the only ones who thought an intercollegiate festival would be a good idea. In addition to the Villanova troupe, teams are coming from Georgetown, the Catholic University of America, the University of Dayton, Fordham, Boston College, the University of Rochester, Temple University and West Virginia University—more than 100 dancers. Says Rowan, “We have a pretty good mix.”

The university’s Irish Studies department also provided tremendous support, Rowan says.

Throughout the day, the teams will compete in four different events: the treble reel, four-hand, eight-hand, and what the organizers are calling a “fun number”—an opportunity for the teams to show off the unique routines they perform for university sporting events and other activities.

“It can be an original choreographed piece, or an adapted piece from a show like “Riverdance” or “Lord of the Dance,” Rowan says. “It should be something that you’ve made your own, modernized, and you can have free rein with it. Just have fun with it and show the versatility that can be found in Irish dance.”

Later that day, starting at 7:30, Villanova will host a Grand Irish Show, featuring RUNA and performances by the dance teams. Each of the teams will get a chance to perform.

For Rowan and all the other Villanova dancers, the first Intercollegiate Festival is more than just a chance to test their mettle—it’s an opportunity to mingle with other university-level dancers.

“Some of the dancers definitely do know each other from competing against each other, but there are also those of us who haven’t competed,” says Rowan. “You usually don’t get to interact with university dance teams. We’re really excited to meet other people who have continued their passion in college.”

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