Curtain call for Irish dancing sister act
BY CHERYL DANGEL BARTOLINI Correspondent February 21, 2014 1:08PM
Maggie, left, and Molly Clifford, of Mother McAuley High School, both have been to the Irish dancing world championships. | Supplied photo by Mary Ellen and Bart Clifford
Updated: February 24, 2014 9:23AM
They look alike. They dance alike. Sisters Molly and Maggie Clifford are a team; a team of award-winning Irish dancers.
Although they appear identical in almost every way, they aren’t twins. Molly, 16, is a sophomore at Mother McAuley High School, while Maggie, 17, is a senior. That can mean only one thing: After years of dancing together, the sister act is about to split up when Maggie heads off to college next school year.
At school, both girls are Catherine McAuley scholars, student ambassadors, members of student council and Women in Science and Technology, and both run cross country.
Outside of school, they are accomplished Irish dancers.
“It all started when we saw one of our neighbors do Irish dancing. So we started as an after-school activity and now it has turned into much more than that,” Maggie said.
They danced and learned the basics and then things started heating up.
“When you are 7 or 8, you can start going to the regional competitions. That’s when it started getting more competitive,” Molly said.
“By the time you’re 13 or 14, you can start qualifying for the world championships, which involves more travel,” Maggie said. “Right now we’re both at the highest level of competition.”
There are different levels at local competitions. The highest is the “open championship,” and that’s where these two compete.
“We’ve also both been to the world championships, which is a competition that is usually held overseas,” said Maggie, who has attended the world competition four times. Last year, she placed 36th, and their team, which is composed of eight of their peers from the Mulhern School of Irish Dance in Westmont, placed 11th.
This April, both sisters will be attending the world championship again, this time in London. Both qualified in the regional competition in November; Maggie placed 12th in the under-17 group while Molly placed 11th in her age category.
“I made a lot of friends in dancing that I’ll have the rest of my life. It teaches hard work and dedication and it really pays off,” Molly said.
“I learned that if I work hard, I can reach my goal. Irish dance has been a home away from home for us, since we’ve been doing it most of our lives,” Maggie said. “It is nice to go somewhere and work hard at something with people who share your same goals.”
The girls say they find dancing fun because they are so competitive. But more than that, it has opened doors for them.
“We’ve gotten opportunities from dancing,” said Maggie, who is also a member of the National Honor Society. “We’ve gotten to travel and it keeps us busy and out of trouble.”
They also perform in shows and are very busy around St. Patrick’s Day.
The girls, the daughters of Mary Ellen and Bart Clifford, of Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community, practice a lot. They have dance lessons four days a week for two to three hours a day and it is a 45-minute drive to their class in Westmont.
“Maggie always helps me. She is my mentor because we have to practice a lot at home,” Molly said.
Maggie’s mentors are Eileen O’Kane and Coleen Malloy, their dance teachers at the Mulhern School.
“They have helped me be the dancer I am today. My parents have also mentored me because they support us and make sure we are doing something that we love,” she said.
Later this year, Maggie will be heading off to college. When that happens, the duo will become a solo act.
“This is my last year of dance and I’m in the process of applying to schools and applying into nursing programs,” said Maggie, who is hoping to attend either St. Louis University, Marquette University, Loyola University or Bradley University.
Molly will continue dancing on her own.
“I’m going to keep dancing until college and then maybe stop competing. The separation is going to be hard for me because I rely on Maggie for a lot,” Molly said.
For Maggie, too, the separation after being together for so long won’t be easy.
“It will be different. It will be a big adjustment,” she said. “We’ve done everything together since we were little, but because dance is such a huge part of our lives, I’ll always come to visit and help her and see that she achieves her goals even though I’m at school.”