Although Alana Mclaughlin is a resident of Scotland, she is keenly proud of her Irish heritage. Both her mother and her father hail from County Donegal and “have always kept in touch with their Irish roots, mainly through the Irish dance and music community.” Thus, it comes as no surprise that she took to Irish dance as a youngster.
Inspired by her mother, Mclaughlin broke into the world of dance when she was just five years of age.
“As soon as I started, I loved it,” she shares with Celtic Life International via email from her home in Glasgow. “And to quote my mother, I took to it like a duck takes to water. Especially when I won the championship at my first ever Feis!”
Mclaughlin went on to dance competitively for 12 years, winning over 50 titles in all, including the Great Britain Championships. She won the All Scotland Championships a total of nine times. By the age of 17, with hundreds of medals and trophies to her name, she began performing with professional Irish dance shows.
“There have been so many highlights, but I would say having the opportunity to travel the world doing what I love and getting to experience places like China, Taiwan and Abu Dhabi are at the top of my list.”
Now in her mid-30s, Mclaughlin focuses much of her time on teaching. In 2015, she launched the Alana Rose Irish Dance Company in Clydebank, Scotland. As her main influences in dance were her teachers, Myrna and Carmen Kennedy, it seemed fitting that she would choose to share what she had learned with other dancers.
“I decided to cut back on performing with the shows and open my own dance school to fulfil my dream of passing on my love of Irish dancing to others.”
In an interview with the Clydebank Post at the time, Mclaughlin said “Most of all the classes are about enjoyment, fitness and making friends.”
More than five years later, the school is still going strong.
“My students range from 3 years old to adults, which is great, as the World Irish Dance Association (WIDA) encourages all abilities and ages to compete. My students should expect a real supportive experience – it is certainly fun, but it is also lots of hard work.”
To make things accessible, she keeps class costs as low as she can.
“For parents, however, it can be somewhat expensive for costumes – especially when the dancers get to the higher levels and want to stand out from the crowd.”
Seeing her students succeed and persevere makes it all worthwhile.
“The biggest reward is seeing my dancers working hard to achieve their goals, watching them win medals and trophies for their hard work and – most of all – enjoying what they do.”
“I am also grateful for the life-long friendships that have developed between our dancers. And there are important life lessons that come with Irish dance – that even when dancers don’t do well at a Feis they can simply get back up and try harder and never give up.”
As with many who ply their trade in the world of arts and culture, Mclaughlin’s biggest current challenge has been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown. “I have tried to keep dancers motivated the best I can with online classes. And WIDA has enabled online competitions, which is great. Although, I must admit that it is a challenge in-and-of itself having a toddler at home while I try to teach online!”
Looking ahead, she hopes classes will get back to “normal” this year and that her students will soon be able to take the stage again. Fortunately, Irish dance remains a popular outlet for young people in the area.
“Glasgow has a huge Irish dance community with lots of schools affiliated with different organizations. There is still a great interest in Irish dancing here with many new young students joining all the time.”