It was the sleek stylings of Irish dance outfits that first caught the curious eye of Molly Kujawa.
“I was eight-years-old at the time,” recalls the dancer via email. “My mom took my twin sister and me to an Irish-American festival in our hometown of Toledo (Ohio). I immediately just fell head-over-heels in love with the pretty dresses – I was hooked!”
Soon after, Kujawa – who is of both Irish and Hungarian descent – enrolled in her first Irish dance class with local instructor Tim O’Hare.
Fast forward a few years and today she is both a celebrated performer asw well as the owner, director and primary instructor at Molly’s Irish Dancers in Toledo. The school offers Irish dance instruction at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
“I received my Irish dance teaching certificate in 2004. It came in the mail just a few days before my oldest daughter was born. Shortly after, I began teaching dance. I started Molly’s Irish Dancers because it is such a unique art form. Now, my dancers attend both in-person workshops and online workshops and also compete in various Irish dance competitions.”
In addition to opening the studio, Kujawa has enjoyed a fruitful and rewarding career.
“Some of my favorite memories are from when I was with Sheila Butler’s school in Tampa, where we danced at Epcot Center. It was interesting to see what went on behind the scenes of a bigger production – and we got to dance at Disney! We have also danced in commercials and on the news.
“I absolutely love performing for people who can’t get out to see shows. They are always so happy when we come dance for them.”
She notes that, although rewarding, the vocation has its fair share of challenges.
“We have to perform at the high level of a sprinter, or a hurdler, but also look beautiful and graceful and do intricate footwork at the same time. Recruiting new dancers is always an issue, especially boys. However, I offer a ‘Little Leprechauns’ class for preschool children and that has been a great way to introduce young ones to the joy of Irish dancing.”
Kujawa believes that Irish culture – and the Irish dance community in particular – is in a very strong place these days.
“Since Riverdance, awareness has just skyrocketed. Without the passion of that production, I don’t think it would be as popular as it is today. The Toledo area hosts several ethnic and international festivals throughout the year, and we enjoy performing at these events – not only to promote Irish dance and culture – but also because it gives the children the opportunity to experience both the similarities and the differences amongst global cultures.”
She believes that there is still much work to be done, however.
“Irish dance lessons should be available to people of all income levels. I would also like to see Gaelic language classes offered at local organizations or schools. It is a difficult language and best learned with the guidance of an instructor.”
Although her love for Irish dance fashion has remained steadfast over the years, her reasons for performing and teaching have evolved.
“I still love the dresses, absolutely! But I also wanted to share my Irish heritage with my own girls in honor of my mom who passed away when I was a teenager. My two daughters, Chianna and Sanibel, have been Irish dancing since they started walking. It makes me proud to share something so special with them, and I hope they continue the tradition and become Irish dance teachers in their own time.
“Dancing is as important to me as water or air – it is a part of who I am, and I hope to be teaching for many more years.”