Montrose’s World-class Irish Steppers Reveal Character through Commitment


Alex Rider '18, Features Editor

The whole school is buzzing about Irish Step World Champions Ciara Hernon ‘18 (7th place), Emma Schiller ‘17 (1st place), and Colleen McCarthy ‘16 (1st place)! These accomplished athletes share their history with Irish dancing and what drives them to keep on dancing, no matter what.

All three girls dance at Harney Academy in Walpole, Massachusetts. Colleen McCarthy ‘18 started when she was only four years old, and on weeknights and weekends puts in extra effort with her dancing skills on her practice floor in her basement. She says, “My sister, who danced, inspired me to start dancing. My mom also used to dance when she was younger, and some of my cousins were involved in Irish dancing.” Amazingly, Colleen has qualified for and gone to Worlds every year since she was 11 years old, seven times in total. Clearly her extra hours of practice paid off! She said, “To compete at the World Championships, it takes perseverance and determination. Dancers have to work incredibly hard to reach this level. Additionally, through my injuries I have learned patience. All dancers need the virtue of humility. Dancers need to know how to win gracefully and also accept failure.”

Similarly, Emma Schiller ‘17 began dancing at four years old. She says, “My sister did Irish step, and I always wanted to do what she did. At first it was just for fun, but I realized when I was about six how much I loved it and decided I was not stopping any time soon. Little did I know back then how far it would take me and all the amazing people and places I would meet!” Emma has also competed seven times (qualifying for eight, but got injured), starting at the tender age of 10. She said, “Irish step has introduced me to many incredible people and lifelong friends. It has also taken me around the world, which I am so blessed to be able to do. From dance I learned how to push myself, plan my time out, go the extra mile, set a goal and achieve it, and not give up when it gets tough. Most importantly, I think, I know how to be disappointed – things don’t always go your way, but it is important to know how to go back with a new attitude and try again!.I still have so much to learn, but dance has given me so many amazing life experiences. Dance does consume a lot of my time, but it makes the time I do have to spend with friends and family even more special.”

Ciara Hernon ‘18 has been dancing for 10 years. When she started dancing at age 5, she was merely carrying on what her mother, who danced when she was younger, had started. Her primarily Irish heritage was a contributing factor as well. She says, “When my parents signed me up for Irish Step all those years ago, they had no idea I would end up where I am now.” Ciara has competed in Worlds four times, most recently earning 7th place with her team in Scotland. “To achieve an accomplishment like this it takes a lot of hard work, dedication and commitment. In the weeks leading up to Worlds we practiced about 6 days a week for 2-4 hours. Along with our regular classes we also take fitness/workout classes to help our endurance and flexibility.” Ciara also shares how Irish Step has impacted other areas of her life: “Irish Step has helped me realize how supportive my family, friends and school are. It has also taught me time management and how to balance all the different parts of my life; and it has overall shaped the person I am today.”

Collen McCarthy ‘16 agreed. She said, “Through Irish dance I have learned time management, discipline, and the value of hard work. Most importantly, I have learned how to push through difficulties and use failure as motivation to be better the next time.” Emma Schiller ‘17 added, “It definitely takes passion and hard work to train for the competition. You have to be willing to put your all in, even when you don’t feel like it! It also takes a passion for what you’re doing, otherwise you would not love it enough to stick with it. Lastly it takes faith – I would be nowhere without it!”

These years of practice have not only gifted a high work ethic, humility, and patience to the world champions, but also an undying love for the sport. Colleen McCarthy ‘16 enthusiastically said, “Irish dancing has the incredible ability to make me forget about everything else in the world. Additionally, I have made incredible friends throughout the years, and the competitions are always fun to travel to and participate in. I get to meet so many people from around the world with a similar passion. I know my life would be completely different without Irish dancing, and I am thankful everyday for the support I receive from my friends and family. Irish dance has been a huge blessing and is my favorite thing in the entire world!” Ciara Hernon ‘18 loves the competition aspect of Irish Step. She said, “The thrill of winning and achieving a goal you have worked so hard for is an incredible feeling that keeps me going.”

Emma Schiller ‘17 agreed: “My favorite part of the sport has to be the performance, whether at a show or at a competition. Especially at large competitions, despite the nerves, the feeling of walking out on that stage and putting out all you’ve practiced for so long is indescribable. I honestly cannot remember or put into words what is going through my head while I am dancing on stage, but that feeling is what keeps me going. It is so rewarding, whether you win or lose, to know you worked your hardest and put your best effort forth on the stage. All the time, effort, and pain I put into Irish Step Dancing is all definitely worth it in the end!”