Luck of the Irish

Kate Hennessey, sports writer

As soon as the dancers came tapping and kicking out onto the stage, she was instantly drawn into the rhythms and beats of their feet. Tabby Stowers, junior, saw her stepfather performing on the bagpipes with a procession of Irish dancers in an opening ceremony recital in St. Charles.

At just 7 years old, she knew immediately that is what she wanted to do. Her stepfather’s Irish heritage came from his parents, she said. Jackson Stowers’ practice of the Irish culture, including seeing him perform with Irish dancers made an impact on her.

“Dancing at practice and hearing all the cool beats and how fast people move their feet, that’s what really got to me,” Stowers said. “I just love moving around, I’m a very athletic person, so [I enjoy] moving around the stage.“

Tabby could tell her dad was happy that she chose to Irish dance, she said. What made him happy was that he could tell she thoroughly enjoyed Irish dancing, without feeling pressured to perform.

“Before she started dancing, I thought Irish dancing was kind of boring,” Jackson said. “After watching her, I see how complicated it is with the feet movement and speed. It’s great she chose this dance on her own and is really good at it.”

Over the course of almost a decade, Jackson has grown proud of Tabby’s performances. His most recent proud moment is when Stowers made it to the Mid-America Regional Championships last year, where she reached her goal by medaling in the competition.

“The best thing about her dancing is her smile when she’s on stage,” Jackson said. “Other teachers and parents will come up to me and compliment it.”

Tabby’s dance teacher, Katie Stegeman, has been coaching Tabby for eight years. She has watched Tabby grow as both a dancer and person during this time.

“In the past couple years Tabby has pushed [herself] to reach [her] full potential,” Stegeman said. “She works hard in class, works outside of practice and takes the opportunity to have private classes.”

At the expense of doing a time consuming sport, thoughts of quitting dance came after years of practice and competitions. Some of these competitions included a trip to the World Championships in Dublin to compete with the best dancers in the world and a soloist spot at Nationals last year, in Orlando, FL. “I’ve always had thoughts about, What if I quit Irish dancing? Would that affect me in any way?” Stowers said. “Sometimes I get tired of it. Sometimes I don’t want to go to practice.”

The thought of not hearing her name announced at recalls, where judges calculate points and then call out the names of dancers who pass through to the last round of the competition, still scares her. Anticipation of the treasured medal ceremonies at the end of competitions, helps her return to practice each week, Stowers said.

“[Going] to a competition and working hard, even if you didn’t want to, but you still try your best and [afterwards you go up on stage to receive a medal,” Tabby said. “[When the] medal says you’re one of the best dancers in the nation or region, that’s what really keeps me going. If I didn’t do well in dance then I probably would’ve stopped a long time ago.”

According to Tabby, what may be the most important factor of Irish dancing, second to dancing, is how the dancers look. The “outfit factor” can cost thousands of dollars and take at least an hour to get ready.

“Say you have two people,” Stowers said. “One of them is wearing a regular black dress, no bling, and they have no makeup [or] wig. [The other person] wears bling, has a wig and has outdone themselves. They dance the same, [but] typically the judges will judge higher for the person that put more on because they seem like they put more effort into what they’re doing.”