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‘Ireland on Parade’: Oak Forest dance school steps up

A group dancers wait joduring practice for Cross Keys Dancers Gaelic Park Monday March 4th 2013 Oak Forest. | Gary

A group of dancers wait to join in during practice for the Cross Keys Dancers at Gaelic Park, Monday, March 4th, 2013, in Oak Forest. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media

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More Irish dancing

Remaining performers in “Ireland on Parade” at Gaelic Park, 6119 W. 147th St., Oak Forest:

Thursday: Gaelic Park Set Dancers, 6:30 p.m.; Blackbird School of Irish Dance, 7 p.m.; Tooromeen School of Irish Dancing, 7:30 p.m.; Irish Music Session with Pat Finnegan and Friends, 8 p.m.

Friday: Mulhern School of Irish Dancing, 7 p.m.; Cross Keys School of Irish Dance, 7:30 p.m.

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Updated: April 15, 2013 6:09AM



Like many of their peers, members of the Cross Keys School of Irish Dance are quite busy this time of year.

The Cross Key dancers, who practice at Gaelic Park in Oak Forest, are spending much of this week performing. They were in the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday, and will perform twice this weekend at Gaelic Park: at 7:30 p.m. Friday during the “Ireland on Parade” series, and at a luncheon Saturday.

That’s what dancers do, and they enjoy it, school founder Kathleen O’Carroll said.

“Most of them start when they are 4 or 5 years old. It’s their love and passion for dancing. It’s the friendships, the competition, the teamwork,” said O’Carroll, of Palos Heights.

There are 130 dancers in the Cross Keys school, the majority of them girls.

“But we do have some boys, too,” O’Carroll said.

For the most part, they train during the week and sometimes on weekends.

O’Carroll, who started the dance school in 1981, said many of her graduates go on to bigger and better things.

”We just went to see ‘Lord of the Dance,’ and one of my alumni, Katie Kerrigan, from Frankfort, is the lead,” O’Carroll said.

Dancers set goals and work hard to meet them, she said. Many have traveled all over the world.

“Our nationals will be in California in July, and the world championships will be in Boston later this month,” she said. “It’s different goals for different children. But most of it, especially for me, is the friendships that you make. You’re there from the time you’re young and this becomes like your second family.”

Parents often sign up their children “to keep the tradition alive,” she said.

“Maybe they’ve seen the dancers perform at Gaelic Park, and they got hooked. As we train them, they become more and more confident, and many of them do go on to be successful in the business world. Most of the dancers are very smart, very intelligent and have confidence in themselves. Many wind up in the National Honor Society. That’s rewarding to me when, at the end of the day, they grow up to be fine adults,” O’Carroll said.

This year’s world championships in Boston will be during Easter Week, which means many dancers will be off school and able to compete.

“We’ll try our best. The best we’ve done is seventh and eighth place. It’s all about the training,” she said.

After more than 30 years working with young dancers, O’Carroll is far from ready to hang it up.

“The fire is still alive,” she said. “Some of the alumni have come back to teach Irish dance and that’s great. There’s some young blood in the school and we have some amazing teachers. The artistic fire is still going. There’s nothing like seeing a child fulfill goals.”



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