Both Delia Phillips and Eileen Olech were introduced to Irish dance at a young age and now spend their time nurturing that same talent in others.
“When I was five years old, my parents enrolled me in Irish dance classes,” says Phillips, who has Irish, German and Scottish roots. “I was already taking German dance lessons and my parents wanted me to learn the dance style for my Irish heritage too.”
With encouragement from her mother and father, Phillips’ love of dance grew, and she kept at it. Now, she can’t imagine life without it.
“I started dancing to learn about my heritage and where I came from, and it ended up teaching me about who I am. I love to dance, and to feel the music and let it flow through me – to let out how I am feeling and express myself fills me with so much joy.
“I continue to dance today because I have to – it is a part of me.”
Phillips began teaching when she was still in high school at the request of several elementary students who were keen to learn a few Irish dance moves.
“I realized I loved teaching dance, not just dancing for myself. One of my own dance teachers found out I liked teaching and started training me to get my TCRG [Teagascóir Choimisiúin le Rinci Gaelacha] so I could become an official Irish dance teacher.”
She started studying and tried her hand at teaching a few classes. Unfortunately, after a few years, the school where she was teaching closed its doors.
“I wanted to continue teaching, but I just didn’t know where to go,” she recalls. “I was still doing private lessons and coaching, and one day a student asked if their friends could join in. We ended up renting a church hall and I did a couple lessons for the friends. Then another friend joined the class, and then a couple more. Thus, Emerald Dance Academy was born.”
The Emerald Dance Academy student body is made up of a small group of local girls, most of whom are homeschooled. As head instructor and owner, Phillips does everything from teaching dances and choreographing steps, to setting up shows and picking out costumes.
“Irish dance may be a small niche – and it is hard to get into unless you are really looking, since it is such a specific form of dance – but it is still going strong for the young people involved in it,” shares Phillips. “Our students today are hungry to learn and do their best. The only issue that we see is the lack of awareness of this particular style of dance – for now, Irish dance is not as prominent as other styles.”
Eileen Olech, who fell in love with Irish dance while watching a St. Patrick’s Day performance as a child, reached out to Phillips for an opportunity to be involved.
“I had an itch to dance again and contacted Delia since I knew she still had a dance floor,” she explains. “We got to talking, and she mentioned that she ran a dance class and I offered to help. I have been an assistant here for almost three years now.”
In addition to their duties at Emerald Dance Academy, both Olech and Phillips ply their trade as school teachers by day.
“My career, consistently learning, and the other things that I participate in definitely need balancing,” says Olech.
Phillips echoes the sentiment.
“Just balancing two jobs and life in general can be a challenge. While Irish dance continues to grow, there is still only a small group of teachers in the area to connect with. As many WIDA [World Irish Dance Association] events are outside of the U.S.A., it is often difficult to get our dancers to the bigger events and expose them to the culture as much as we would like.”
There are, however, many great opportunities close to home.
“We are fortunate to participate in many Irish and Celtic festivals and events across Michigan throughout the year,” notes Phillips.
“And we must continue to support our local dancers and teachers to preserve and promote the culture here; more often than not, and as it did with us, that begins at home.”