By Mike Tommins
People gathered into St. Thomas Aquinas Student Center Saturday night for Irish Fest, a cultural celebration hosted by UConn Irish. The crowd conversed over soft Irish folk music. They ate crackers, cheese, and pastries on green and white tablecloths decorated with shamrocks and tricolor flags: green, white, and orange. The tables formed a Horseshoe in front of the stage, leaving a large square of open tile floor.
Dancers from UConn Irish lined up in two rows shoulder to shoulder. The women wore black tops and black skirts with embroidered Celtic knots in green and white thread along the bottom. The men wore dark pants and black tops.
Their bodies were synced as they skipped and jumped into the air. The percussion of feet tapping and stomping filled the hall.
The dances continued, each a rapid combinations of kicks, skips, and twirls. Some were partnered, others individual. They even asked participants with any experience in Irish Step to perform with them. Ankles moved as if on fire. All while fiddles and mandolins rolled in the background.
As the dancers rehydrated and the hosts urged folks to grab more food, two students presented a mini lesson in the native Irish language.
One of the dances was performed by beginners, some of whom had only started this semester. The four dancers showed off their practiced steps. They spun around in a wheel. Danced in a line. They weaved in and out of each other with focused brows to much applause.
The event also featured frequent dance lessons between performances. The first dance we learned was a partnered dance, where everyone gets around a circle with the lead dancer in the center. The movement was to take four steps forward, then spin around 90 degrees and take four steps back. The movement then repeated four steps forward in the other direction. Needless to say there were a lot of traffic jams and stepped-on toes, but everyone had wide smiles.
Later in the night, there was a live performance from a UConn Irish alumna on the violin and her mother on the accordion. They played waltzes and polkas while the floor opened for willing dancers.
This night of food, music, and dance showed the presence of Irish culture on campus, even outside of the iconic St. Patricks Day.