It's a Wednesday afternoon at the Shamrock World Dance and Movement Center and eight-year-old Ian Emmett is slipping on his black dance shoes. The sound of the bagpipes is cued up on the iPhone and the countdown begins.

It's a Wednesday afternoon at the Shamrock World Dance and Movement Center and eight-year-old Ian Emmett is slipping on his black dance shoes. The sound of the bagpipes is cued up on the iPhone and the countdown begins.
“Five, six, seven, eight,” calls out their instructor as she peers ahead at a wall lined with mirrors.
Ian is off, bouncing across the dance studio, hands by his side and chin up.
He is not alone. This is a weekly ritual for around a dozen children getting their feet wet in the world of Irish dance.
Their instructor, 30-something, Alicia Smith,  said she didn't set out to form a dance troupe or open a studio when she and her family arrived in Rolla six years ago from Southern Missouri. What she did intend to do is impart her love of dancing to anyone who was willing to learn.
“My grandparents owned a dance studio in the Kansas City area and they taught all kinds of traditional folk dancing,” said Alicia. “I grew up dancing and learning from them.”

Her husband's studies at Missouri University of Science and Technology brought her to Rolla. Upon arrival, Alicia said she got super-involved with dance and teaching fitness classes at Missouri S&T and word got out that she was an Irish dancer.
She taught at the now defunct andFLEW! School of the Arts on Pine Street and most recently, at  WomanSpace, a community center for women, just outside the city limits.

“I was surprised by the interest in Irish dance not only by children, but by adults as well,” she explained. “However, it's only logical as this is the home of the great  St. Patrick's Day parade and the patron saint of the university is St. Patrick. Everybody's got some Irish in them here.”
In April, Alicia opened up a store-front studio on South Bishop, across from Lions Club Park and expanded her dance offerings.

“My grandmother had always wanted me to open my own studio,” Alicia said. “In January, she passed away, so I knew it was time to act.”
Shamrock World Dance and Movement Center was born. It offers belly-dancing, hip-hop,  yoga, zumba and even Indian Bollywood-style dancing instructions. Classes are for kids as young as three up to adults who just want to learn and exercise. She teaches most of the classes herself  with the help of a handful of other instructors.

More than just steps
Sixteen-year-old Tessa Luechtefeld has been Irish dancing with Alicia for five years. When she started, mom and dad had a 20-minute drive to the dance studio. Now, at age 16, Tessa makes a three-hour drive from Warrensburg to Rolla at least once a week—all for the love of dance.
“Part of the reason I drive so far is because of the large focus on performance, not competition, at Shamrock,” she said.

Alicia finds a way  to captivate an audience and tell a story,” explained Tessa.  “As someone who has been acting for many years, this brings a lot of fun into dance, and it's something that not a lot of Irish dancers get to focus on.”

Tessa added that she's even learned some Gaelic.
“I remember my first class with Alicia and she had us just sit down, and she talked about the history of Irish dance and why she loves to do it, ” Tessa shared. 

Most Irish dancers begin learning their steps when they are youngsters. Twenty-one-year old Missouri S&T senior, Brian Baumgartner, started at age 20.
“I saw them at the Celebration of Nations last year and was hooked,” the Kansas City native said. “I practice at least an hour a day.”
He too loves the performances.
“I like to see the enjoyment of the audience and the joy it brings to them,” he added.

The parents of the Shamrock dancers echoed  a similar sentiment.
“There is a good family spirit here ,” said Ian's mom, Rosanne Emmett whose daughter, Abby, also dances. “All the kids get along, and we do many things together outside of Irish dance. The kids are all great friends, helping and encouraging each other.”

Performances not pageantry
Alicia noted that Irish dance has grown in popularity over the past several decades thanks to international-touring acts such as Riverdance. With that, the dance style has become commercialized and competitive. That equates to precision steps for the judges, laser-like focus and elaborate and expensive dance costumes, and most importantly—winning. That's not for Alicia. She grew up dancing at festivals and fairs not to win.
She likes to tell stories and tales that celebrate Irish culture through dance.

“Because of my massive dance background, I add some props and some lyrical elements to our shows. While we like traditional dance, I think it’s this combination of  elements that makes us unique,” she told The Rolla Daily News.

In the spring of this year, her performance group of around 18 older students traveled to various festivals around Missouri. These included a show at the Central Missouri Renaissance Festival in Columbia, the White Heart Renaissance Festival near Marshfield and the St. Charles River Irish Festival, among others. 

"If you want to perform, we have a spot for you,” Alicia said.
A weekend Renaissance fair isn't for just for her Irish dancers. Her gypsy troupe of around a dozen bellydancers decked out in their flashy costumes and with zills on their  fingers are often found wowing the crowds as well.
Alicia is proud of the fact that her dancers are in demand in the world of Rennaisance fairs.

“Its neat because we started off as a small club and now we are in demand. All of my students, young and old, work hard and  are super talented.”

As for the road ahead, Alicia and her older Irish dancers are trying to get to Ireland in August, 2018.  That means raising money and organizing the trip.

“ We hope to dance at a big festival while there,” she said.  “That would be a dream come true.”