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Irish dance provides familiarity for JBLM youth

Scott Hansen/JBLM PAO Members of Scoil Rince Slieveloughane Irish dance school perform during the St. Paddy’s Day 10K/5K Race after party.

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Military youths who grow up forced to make the adjustments that come with frequent moves appreciate familiar things. For a small group of Joint Base Lewis-McChord young people, an Irish dance is as familiar as walking.

Victoria Vest began Irish dance classes about three years ago after watching the movie "Luck of the Irish." The 11-year-old's dad is a Soldier with the 189th Infantry Brigade. While stationed at JBLM, Vest enrolled at Scoil Rince Slieveloughane, a premier Irish dance school with studios throughout the Puget Sound.

"We've been here for about six years and will probably move next year," said Sandi Vest, mother of Victoria. "Looking to the future (Irish dance) will help her when we move."

With dance studios in Olympia and Tacoma, commutes are easy for JBLM families. But for some dancers, they didn't always have easy access to a studio.

Hayley Hustead, 16, a junior at Bellarmine Preparatory School, started Irish dancing while her family was stationed in Germany. She competed and performed throughout Europe, but when her family PCS'd to Fort Irwin, Calif., the state's premier dance studio was more than 100 miles away from home. Twice a week, Hustead's mother drove her more than 200 miles round trip to dance practice. It was well worth it for Hustead, a preliminary champion. Now at JBLM, where her dad is assigned to 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, the Husteads enjoy a far shorter commute to a Tacoma studio, allowing Hayley to continue dancing for her ninth year.

"It's so energetic," Hustead said. "It's something to show the world. You just dance your heart out."

With the assistance of online discussion forums and word-of-mouth, military families approaching PCS are able to scout out nearby studios. From country to country, state to state, the dance steps are the same, but the dancers have to be flexible to learn the names of new steps special to each studio after each move.

Samantha Montgomery was introduced to Irish dance while her family was stationed in Virginia. When her dad, a Soldier with 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, was assigned to JBLM, she joined the local studio.

"It's nationwide and in a lot of other countries, too," the 15 year old said. "So no matter where you go, you can find it."

Such was also the case for Mary Richardson, 16, who has seen her fair share of moves. Richardson's family was stationed at Fort Lewis when her grandparents took her to see the "Lord of the Dance" musical and dance production 10 years ago. The family settled back in Washington when her father retired from the Army and Richardson settled in with Scoil Rince Slieveloughane.

All the Army daughters performed together at JBLM's St. Paddy's Day festival March 16. In colorful dresses and curly wigs, they performed Irish dance - a style in which their upper body is mostly stationary with rapid leg and foot movements.

Holidays - especially St. Patrick's Days - are busy weekends for Irish dancers. The dance troupe performed at multiple locations during the Irish holiday. The dancers return to JBLM April 18 for a performance at Eagles Pride Golf Course.

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