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Irish eyes are smiling at Rowlett Elementary

Some of the girls are of Irish descent. Like Emma Grooms and Sara Beth Wheeler.

Some just enjoy doing a reel or a jig. Like Mackenzie Grace and Kiera Rendon.

The girls are proud members of Rowlett Magnet Elementary School’s Irish Dance troupe, which also includes Brittany Burnham, Raeann Folds, Jaclyn Gauthier, Marissa Hulsart and Nicole Slade. “It’s just fun,” said Kiera, a third-grader.

Ages 8, 9 and 10, they’ll perform in Saturday’s second St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the Village of the Arts and in Sunday’s 11th annual Beach Bistro St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Holmes Beach.

“I like performing a lot and I’ve made friends doing Irish dance,” said Mackenzie, a third-grader.

Gretchen Rath, a technology teacher, has taught Irish dance as part of Rowlett’s enrichment program for five years. Rath has watched the dance troupe grow to the point there now is a waiting list.

“My favorite thing about the Irish Dance program is it promotes Celtic culture,w and that’s part of American history,” she said.

“My own kids took Irish dance when they were little and I enjoy spreading that culture to this generation.”

Ten-year-old Sara Beth can relate. Her ancestors emigrated from Ireland and Wales.

So can 10-year-old Emma. Her great-grandmother was from Ireland.

“Mom has told me all about her and this class helped me appreciate my heritage,” the fourth-grader said.

The Rowlett troupe, sponsored by the New World Celts South Bay chapter, an organization promoting historical contributions of the Celts, has practiced reels and jigs for months.

Rath taught the girls not only about the dances but the dance’s roots.

“Traditional dances that started in Ireland have not changed in centuries,” she said. “When they do each dance, we talk about why it is the way it is and the difference between them.”

Which makes an amusing balancing act for 10-year-old Nicole, who’s also a ballerina.

“In ballet you use more of your hands instead of your feet, but in Irish dance you use your feet more than your hands,” the fifth-grader said.

“When I go to ballet on Thursday and Irish dance on Friday, it gets tricky.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at Please include a phone number for verification.