Trinity Academy of Irish Dance focuses on developing male dancers.
In the Irish dance world, as in the larger dance world, women tend to outnumber men. But with the Men of Trinity program, Trinity Academy of Irish Dance is encouraging boys to step into class and even more important, continue dancing into their teens.
With three-time World Irish Dance Champion Peter Dziak as inspiration (and assistant instructor), Men of Trinity offers boys from as young as 3 up to young adult a special twice-monthly class that reinforces their regular technique classes and fosters camaraderie both inside and outside the studio.
The four pillars of the program are bonding, competition, performance and teamwork, says Dziak, who followed his brother into dance classes at 4 years old and was highly influenced by male role models.
Trinity prides itself on creating an environment that welcomes male dancers, says Mark Howard, who founded Trinity Academy of Irish Dance in 1981. The organization has 15 locations in the Chicago area, serving roughly 1,000 students. Out of that, 80 boys (90 percent of total male enrollment) take part in the program at the school’s Elmhurst, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, locations. Howard’s wife Natalie was Dziak’s coach for most of his competition career and heads the new program. Dziak, now 17, also credits former Trinity student Joe Smith with mentoring and inspiring him to become a teacher. Smith will organize the program’s activities outside of the studio.
In the bimonthly boys-only classes, Dziak emphasizes the natural athleticism of Irish dance but keeps it playful. “I tell them if we dance hard, then we can play hard,” he says. “So we work hard at dancing for the majority of the time, then we get to play soccer or wall ball or tag football.”
Those games can teach concepts the guys can use in dance, whether it’s learning how to coordinate their bodies in space in soccer, building awareness of the position of other players in football or practicing the snap of a wrist in tennis. And while he encourages healthy competition, which naturally appeals to the youngsters, Dziak sees the class as promoting a sense of teamwork as well.
“Mark has taught me, through Irish dance, life skills that I continue to use now, and that’s what I want to teach,” says Dziak, who notes that the competitive phase of an Irish dancer’s career is often finished by the time they go to college. “These kids are building relationships, learning how to listen, to take in information and work with it and communicate, all these crucial skills that will help them throughout their lives.” DT
For more: trinityirishdance.com
Mary Ellen Hunt, a former dancer, now a teacher, writes about dance and the arts for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Photos by Kim Rudden, courtesy of Trinity Academy of Irish Dance