Kate O'Brien, owner of Emerald Isle Dance Academy, already had a history of training world-class Irish dancers when she decided to start offering classes in Ventnor in February. At this year's National Irish Dance Federation National Championships, it was just more of the same.
Three of O'Brien's area students placed in their categories at the competition, which was held at Richard Stockton College July 20-21.
"I was thrilled with how they did," O'Brien said. "I was really impressed with their level of dancing."
Gwen Resch, 13, of Linwood, and Emily Lewis, 18, of Northfield, both took first place in their age groups in the novice category. Tracy O'Neil, 27, of Ventnor, was second in the adult novice category.
Irish dancing is different from most American forms of dance in that, instead of incorporating the whole body into the movements, it's done almost exclusively from the waist down, with the dancer's arms held stiffly at her side. The style uses a lot of kicking, leaping and tapping motions.
O'Brien, who already operated four studios in Pennsylvania, Delaware and central New Jersey, decided to branch out into South Jersey last year after one of her top students expressed interest in becoming a dance teacher.
She opened a studio in Egg Harbor Township in November, and after that quickly drew interest. She partnered with Tracy Lee Studio in Ventnor to offer classes there starting in February.
Many of those who take classes at O'Brien's Ventnor location were her students before she opened there, but for most, the July competition marked their first brush with national success.
Resch, who has trained for years alongside Lewis and Galloway's Cori Birtch, who also won her category, said her win was extra special because she earned it alongside two of her close friends.
"We're like the three musketeers," Resch said. "To all win was great, to share in that together."
O'Brien, 27, started Irish dancing when she was 16 and started offering lessons at 21. The New Castle, Del., resident paid for lessons herself and was unable to afford the expense of traveling to national competitions, but while she may lack personal experience at the highest level, she loves training others.
O'Brien's teaching style is very hands-on, and she has a fine eye for detail, noting when one of her girls has her foot turned too far or holds her arms away from her sides.
Melly Timmreck, of Mays Landing, is one of O'Brien's top students. She already was an international-level competitor when she first started training at Emerald Isle in spring 2012, but O'Brien helped her improve her technique, as she does for everyone who walks through her doors.
"Kate is great with all levels of Irish dance, beginners all the way through the top," Timmreck said. "She takes her time with each student."
Emerald Isle Dance Academy offers classes on Mondays in Ventnor and Thursdays in Egg Harbor Township, and will offer classes on Fridays in Cape May starting in September.
For more information about Emerald Isle Academy, see facebook.com/ EmeraldIsleAcademyOf
IrishDance or email kate@emeraldisleacad
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