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Irish dance class putting a spring in Evansville’s step

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
February 5, 2012
— A bit of Irish culture has arrived in Evansville.

People—young to old—began jigging last fall when Creekside Place began offering Irish dance classes.


A second session of seven-week classes, broken into three age groups, began Jan. 7 and continues Saturdays through Feb. 25 at the community senior center.


On Saturday, two girls showed up for week three of the 4- to 7-year-old instruction.


Both carefully observed instructor Kristina Shepard, 49, of Stoughton as she helped them warm up.


“Let’s skip with our knees up and toes down by going once around the room. Here we go,” she said.


As the girls followed closely behind her, Shepard instructed them. “Try and point your toes down. Up and up. Big knees. Point those toes!’’


“Good job,” she said in praise as she repeated the steps before moving onto a series of knee steppers.


“Hold your head up and don’t look at your feet!” she said.


During the 45-minute lesson, Shepard went over some basic steps taught in earlier classes as a refresher and way to warm up before moving on to a new step, she called the jig three.


“It’s kind of like the skipping step but a bit tricky because it’s danced to a different beat,” she said before demonstrating the movements.


After starting with her weight on her left foot, Shepard lifted her right foot off the ground.


She hopped on her left foot once then again before bringing her right foot back behind her left foot and shifting her weight onto her right foot and leaving her left foot in the air.


“That’s hard,” said Addy Heibler, 7, of Evansville. She watched her instructor, but was determined to learn the step by quickly falling in behind Shepard and following her movements and instructions back and forth across the room.


Teagan Simpson, 5, said she enjoys the class “because it’s fun.”


Her older sisters, Camden Simpson, 10, and Avery Simpson, 8, are enrolled in the 8- to 12-year-old Irish dance class, which started as soon as Teagan’s lesson was done.


Their father Frank Simpson sat along the side. He explained why he and the girls’ mother Erin (Durkin) Simpson enrolled their daughters in the class.


“It’s really nice and convenient and something we could go to Madison or Milwaukee to. But this is much more convenient,’’ he said, to their nearby Brooklyn home.


It also teaches the girls a bit about their heritage since their mother’s family is from Ireland and “gives them exposure to something different to do,’’ Frank said.


Robert Heibler, Evansville, said his daughter Addy looks forward to class every week.


“I’ve taken her to a lot of Irish dance shows and she’s always loved ’em. She really wants to come,” he said.


Shepard studied dance—mostly jazz and ballet—in high school and college and as an adult enrolled in a step dance class through continuing studies at UW-Madison. She began instructing the Irish dance classes in Evansville last fall.


The appeal, she said, is “it looks cool and is pretty darn amazing.’’


It’s likely a summer session of the Irish dance class will be offered.


“We’re happy to have Kristina here. It’s exciting for the kids to be able to have this experience and not have to travel. “We’ve had a wonderful response,’’ said Dave Vanderhaegen, executive director of Creekside Place.


It also, he said, “brings a bit of Irish culture into town.’’



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