Trinity Irish Dancers visit 'You & Me' on St. Patrick's Day

In the month of March, Irish dancers are busier than ever – Trinity Irish Dancers, specifically. With over 250 performances in the past two weeks, including Blackhawks and Bulls games, visiting retirement homes and a medley of Irish festivities, the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance has been dancing its way to Friday's big St. Patrick's Day.

When it comes to founder Mark Howard, this all happened by “happy accident.”

Mark Howard, founder and artistic director of the Chicago-based World Champion Trinity Academy of Irish Dance, traces the beginning back to his childhood. His parents are off-the-boat natives of Ireland, and they enrolled Howard and his sister in Irish dance to “rediscover their Celtic heritage.” They danced at the Dennehy School of Irish Dance before he fell into the job of coaching.

This is where Howard gets the phrase “happy accident.” As a 17-year-old in high school, families in the community asked if he would coach their children on Irish dance lessons. By 19, Howard had founded the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance.

As he became more serious about the art, he started taking teams to competitions with misguided enthusiasm of their ability. “As if we’re the Jamaican bobsled team, I said ‘Let’s go win a world title for the United States,’” Howard says, which had never happened before. The first time they went to Worlds, Trinity took home second place with the intention to “not get last place.” The year after? Second place. They finally took home the World Championship title in 1987.

Winning trophies is the least of what drives their program. Trinity’s mission is to elevate children with the power and grace of Irish dance. Trinity has trained around ten thousand students over the past 34 years, from teaching a young Kate Hudson on set of a Ron Howard film, to Tom Hanks and even Conan O’Brien. To say the students of Trinity go on to do big things would be an understatement.

“Without a doubt the best part for me is seeing who they become. Watching them grow and when they graduate and go out into the world; the empathy they have, how strong and resilient they are. They change the world,” says Howard.

Trinity is celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by opening all their studios to the public for free dance lessons. If anyone has interest in becoming a Trinity Irish dancer, there is a 12-week spring course and a four-day summer camp. Visit Trinity Irish Dance for more information.

Watch the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance perform this Friday, March 17, 2017 on You & Me.

Howard tributes this performance to his teacher Marge Dennehy, who passed on March 13, 2017.