By Seth Daniel
When it comes to being Irish and being immersed in Irish culture, Hannah Campbell couldn’t be more saturated in the auld sod – coming from a Charlestown family that bleeds green.
It’s why she has continued to compete in Irish Step Dance at the highest levels, advancing to the World Championships several times, despite the exhaustive practice schedule and expensive accessories that are demanded of the traditional dance.
This Monday, just before heading to Scotland for the World Championships, Campbell, 18, said she doesn’t consider Irish Step Dance to be exhaustive, but a great opportunity to represent her Charlestown family and her Irish culture. She’ll have no trouble doing that, as she is ranked #2 in New England for solo performance – recently qualifying for the World’s at the 2015 Oireachtas regional championships.
“My inspiration is definitely my grandmother, Grace Campbell, who still lives in Charlestown,” said Campbell, a senior at Reading High School. “She’s the most Irish woman you’ll ever meet. We all go to the Goulding School of Irish Dance. I used to watch Molly Carr from Charlestown dance and then I started dancing there. Now, she’s a teacher there at the school. When I started I would watch her perform and I wanted to follow her, which I did. Now my cousin Maeve is picking up after me. It’s like a cycle we have and she did the same thing I did…I really love it. It’s part of my lifestyle. It’s different because it’s something I can connect with deeply being in Irish Step Dance and being Irish. I have a lot of friends who are Irish and aren’t connected at all to their culture. My whole life is about Irish culture, which is good.”
It can’t go without further mention that she is just one of a pipeline of Charlestown young ladies who still reside in the Town or are natives of the Town that have moved to the top of competitive Irish Step Dance – which at one time was cast aside as a relic for the old-timers, but has now moved back into vogue with the young set again.
In addition to Campbell, there is Carr (of the Carr Funeral Home family), Shannon Considine and Maeve. All are current dancers or teachers, and they practice Irish Step Dance three or four times a week for 10 months of the year.
The Charlestown grandmothers, Campbell and others said, were key pieces of the puzzle that is just now coming together with such talented young girls excelling in Irish Step. Irish traditions were instilled in all these girls at a young age by their grandmothers, including life long Charlestown residents Grace Campbell and Sally Woods – both of whom are first generation Americans, their parents having immigrated from Ireland. That said, there was always lots of pride in the culture within the households and the young girls grew up watching their grandmothers sing Irish songs at every event they attended.
“Irish Dance is requires lots of commitment and discipline,” said Kim Mahoney, Maeve’s mother and Hannah’s aunt. “Hannah is ranked second in the New England Region. This is her third or fourth time attending World’s, which is no small thing. Qualifying for World’s is similar to making it to the Super Bowl in the Irish Step world. Hannah is an excellent role model for her younger cousin, Maeve, and for all the younger girls at the Goulding school. They are all very close and supportive of one another.”
She noted that there is not only a time commitment, but also a financial commitment. As popularity has increased, so have the costs. Many of the traditional dance outfits run at more than $2,000 each, she said.
Campbell said she tried other forms of dance and enjoyed them, but it was the close connection to her culture and her Charlestown roots that directed her to Irish Step.
“I have tried different kinds of dancing in my life,” she said. “I used to do ballet and hip hop, but the only thing I really ended up wanting to do was Irish Step.”
Having been to the World’s in Scotland before, Campbell said she’s beyond the nervousness of being there for the first time. In fact, she said once at the week-long competition, things are much more calm than at the regional and local competitions.
“I’m hoping to recall this time,” she explained.
In layman’s terms, a recall would be getting a third performance before the judges in the solo competition. All the dancers get two separate performances before the judges, and then the judges recall a certain percentage of the performers for a third set. Campbell said that she has never had a recall, but feels like this year that might happen.
Powering her bid for a recall, though, will be the excitement and prayers of her grandmother, Grace, back in Charlestown.
“She’s really excited,” said Campbell. “I know she’ll be up at St. Francis praying for me all week.”
Campbell is the daughter of Danny and Mary Ellen Campbell.