Dancers from the Tahlequah Academy of Performing Arts travel around the county to perform Irish dancing on St. Patrick’s Day to residents of area nursing homes.
On Monday, March 14, the troupe performed at Go Ye Village, and on March 15, dancers performed at the Cherokee County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
“We’re going to play to share some of our dancers’ talents with its residents to help them get into the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day,” said Lena Huffman, owner of Tahlequah Academy of Performing Arts.
Huffman, who is known throughout the county as a ballet teacher, only started Irish dancing in 2010.
“I was pregnant with my first child, and even though I wasn’t actually pregnant, I met Judy McCafferty, who hired me as a mature student,” Huffman said.
She expressed a desire to teach students, so she prepared to take the Teagascóir Coimisiún Le Rinci Gaelacha, or TCRG – the official examination of the World Irish Dance Association.
In 2018, she became a certified Irish dancing teacher with this organization. In 2023, she plans to take the exam to become an Irish Dancing judge, which will allow her to judge Irish Dancing competitions in the United States and around the world. She will have the opportunity to visit North and South America, Africa, Australia and Europe.
Huffman loves Irish dancing because it combines athletics with the arts.
“It’s a pretty art form. I really love Irish dancing because the art coincides with achieving athletic achievement,” she said.
She described Irish dancers as having a well-defined athletic structure. Even those new to Irish dancing acquire enough skill to perform in shows, like the ones Huffman presents.
The Academy of Performing Arts welcomes Irish dancers from the age of 3. Others are teenagers, the oldest being 18 years old.
Huffman believes in teaching her students how to give back to the community by providing free entertainment for seniors.
“It is important to grow by learning to serve others. It’s a quality that teaches you to be humble, to take nothing for granted, and it also teaches you that there are always people in life who are less fortunate than you. You can help them feel better, and you can brighten someone’s day, and in turn, it will make you feel better,” she said.
Devon Hahn is a teacher at Briggs School, and she supports her daughter, Scarlett, who is a little Irish dancer. She loves Irish dancing because it’s good for her emotional and physical well-being. Scarlett has been dancing since the age of 3 in 2018 and has taken ballet, jazz and Irish dancing lessons.
“Dancing is such a great activity because it helps kids build confidence and express themselves. Remembering the choreography also helps keep their brains active,” she said.
Mackenzi Harlen is a senior at Tahlequah High School and her mother, Laura Harlen, has supported her for 11 years in dance.
“I think dance is a lost art and activity in the community, especially in the last two years. I think dancing in the community not only helps to share our talents, but also brings joy and a sense of normalcy to the community after so much upheaval. I think it also brings people together in a way that other events and activities cannot,” Harlen said.
check it out
The Academy of Performing Arts will present Irish dancing on March 17 at the Tahlequah Library at 10 a.m. and at the Shiloh Christian School on March 25 at 8 a.m.