Seventeen years ago, Erin Skaalerud was practicing Irish dance in the basement of a local hall.
Now 22 years old and with national and international dancing experience, she will travel to Ireland in April to represent the United States in an Irish dance competition.
But on Sunday, the Central Islip dancer performed on Long Island. Skaalerud and fellow members of the Mulvihill-Lynch Studio of Irish Dance were one of the two groups performing at the Irish Song and Dance Festival at the Sachem Library in Holbrook.
“My favorite part about dancing is putting on shows for people,” she said.
Hundreds watched as the Mulvihill-Lynch school tapped their way around stage in vivid costumes and even louder shoes.
“My least favorite part about dancing is wearing the big wigs,” said dancer Heather Monaghan, 15, of Holbrook. “They’re painful!”
The wigs – of gravity-defying curls and height – and the unique hand-made costumes from Ireland differentiated the levels of experience each girl had.
Beginners sported curly buns while experienced girls wore large wigs that fell past their shoulders. The novice Irish dancers also displayed the school’s emblem, an intricate swirl of lines, across their chest. Dancers who have competed nationally or internationally did not have an emblem on their costume.
The festival also included performances by the Red River Ramblers – a local band known for their inclusion of eccentric instruments. Vocalist Ken Korb strummed along on his mandolin as the band’s trio crooned traditional Irish songs, such as “Fiddler’s Green” and “Danny Boy”.
Irish dancer Shannon Abraldes, 5, of Holbrook, sang and danced to her own rendition of “Danny Boy” – an obvious crowd pleaser. Abraldes followed in her two elder sister’s footsteps by joining the dance team.
“My favorite part about dance group is that I made a lot of new friends,” she said.
Red River Ramblers violinist Lora Kendall joked about not measuring up to how high Abraldes set the bar when it was their turn.
Skaalerud, who also teaches now, sees the dance team as a camaraderie.
“When I’m dancing myself, it’s more for pleasure,” Skaalerud said. “When I see the little ones dancing and how much they’ve improved, it’s better than me being placed anywhere in the world.”