Irish-dance school students will be performing with The Chieftains | NevadaAppeal.com

Irish-dance school students will be performing with The Chieftains

by Maggie O'Neill
Appeal Staff Writer
Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Irish dancers, from left, Jill Lufrano, 36; Veronica Avitia, 14; Marisela Avitia, 12; Miriam Blanchette, 36; Jamie Foremaster, 13; and Jack McLaughlin, 38, practice at a dress rehearsal for their Friday night show with The Chieftains.
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Six dancers from Carson City’s Blanchette School of Irish Dance will perform with the band The Chieftains on Friday night at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks.

“When I found out I was dancing with them, I started running around like a chicken with my head cut off,” said 14-year-old Veronica Avitia. “I even ran into a wall.”

The six dancers include adults Miriam Blanchette, owner of the Blanchette School of Irish Dance; sister-and-brother duo Jill Lufrano and Jack McLaughlin; Jamie Foremaster, 13; and sisters Veronica and Marisela Avitia, both 12.

“I’m so excited because The Chieftains are the biggest Irish band ever,” Veronica said. “They sold more records than anyone, even the Beatles, and I’ve always dreamed of dancing with them.”

She and her sister have been fans of The Chieftains, which formed in the early 1960s in Dublin, ever since Veronica can remember. Her parents played Irish music in the house as the girls grew up.

“When we were little, we used to pretend we were Irish dancers,” she said. “We used to pretend we were Irish dancers because we loved The Chieftains so much.”

The six dancers have been meeting at the Pinkerton School of Dance, where Blanchette teaches, about once a week to practice the two reels they will perform at the concert. One of the reels will be done in soft shoes and the other in hard shoes.

“The soft shoe is more like a ballet slipper, but with lacing,” Blanchette said. “The hard shoe is similar to the tap shoes, but nowadays, it has fiberglass tips and heels, which is for the sound and loudness.”

The six will use costumes already in their wardrobes for the show. They do not yet know when they will go on with The Chieftains nor to which two songs they will dance.

“That part is a little nerve-racking,” Blanchette said. “But in Irish step dancing, you learn steps and can do several steps one after the other in any order. We have put some steps in order for the music. We do know that they play pretty fast when they play live.”

Veronica said not knowing the music beforehand is not really a new challenge to her.

“When we have Irish dance competitions, called a feis, you never know what speed (of music) you are going to get,” she said. “So I’m pretty comfortable with it. I’m hoping they don’t play a song that’s too fast … or too slow.”

The Chieftains found success in the United States in the 1970s. Their music was used in Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 film “Barry Lyndon” and in the more recent films of “Treasure Island,” “Far and Away,” “Rob Roy” and “Gangs of New York.”

Because Blanchette has previously danced with The Chieftains, she knew who to call when she heard they were coming to Northern Nevada. Her most memorable Chieftains’ experience dates to 1993, when she danced at the Hollywood Bowl on a 3-foot tall, 2-foot wide concrete wall with the Kennelly School of Irish Dance out of San Francisco.

“This is coming full circle for me,” she said. “I danced with The Chieftains when I was a student, and now my students are dancing with them.”

– Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at moneill@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.

Carson City dancers

What: The Blanchette School of Irish Dancers perform with The Chieftains

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: John Ascuaga’s Nugget Rose Ballroom, 1100 Nugget Ave., Sparks

Tickets: $37 and $42

To purchase: Call 800-648-1177 or go to http://www.tickets.com.