Step into Rince Nua Irish Dance studio in Maple Grove and the energy is palpable. On this wooden floor, dancers of all ages come to learn the intricate, centuries-old steps of Irish dance. Five young women trained and eventually went on to earn their own pot of gold: a perfect score at the 2015 World Open Irish Dance Championships in Castlebar, Ireland. Rince Nua (which means “new dance”) thus became the first American school to win in the Rince Ceol category.
If legends are made—not born—the team’s success begins with a mutual love of dance. Erin Cooney, owner of Rince Nua, fell in love with dance at the age of 4. “When I first started, I did ballet, tumbling and tap,” she says. Her parents encouraged her early attempts, though neither had much experience with Irish dance. “On St. Patrick’s Day one year, I was dancing and people started throwing coins at my feet. At age 4, I thought, ‘I can make money with this and it’s fun,’” Cooney says.
She started Irish dance before the international phenomenon of Riverdance struck, when her small hometown of Le Center, Minnesota sponsored a dance instructor to teach interested students. Cooney began traveling an hour and a half each week to the Twin Cities to continue her newfound passion.
In 2009, she became the fourth American to obtain the ODCRN—an Irish dance teacher’s diploma from CRN, a prominent Irish dance organization in Ireland and the only one to offer teaching in the Rince Ceol (which means “dance and song”) dance category.
Cooney opened Rince Nua in July 2012, and her dream soon converged with that of her students. Ellie Kinney, Ireland Rose Langer, Ava Licht, Alyssah O’Neill, and Dulcie Searle each came to the studio with their own unique dance history, but became focused on a single goal: dedicating countless hours preparing, not only for individual performances but for the team in the Rince Ceol category, offered only at the World’s competition.
Teams of up to five dancers perform a creative number to preselected music, but have license with costume, choreography and interpretation. “Day of the Dead,” based on traditions of the Mexican holiday, was coached and choreographed by Casey Pearson and Krissy Mobraten.
A particular challenge of the dance was a shoe change mid-dance. “It’s part of what makes the number so fabulous. They were able to do soft shoe and hard shoe in the same number, “ Cooney says.
Kinney, 16, and Licht, 14, believe originality was key to winning at the Worlds. “When our coach chose the song, “Spanish Point,” she had the idea for ‘Day of the Dead,’ with red flamenco dresses and sugar skull masks,” Kinney says. “We stuck with our idea and went full out,” Licht adds.
The road to becoming world champions was paved with years of practice and the collaboration of dancers, coaches, parents, and Cooney. Licht says it was all worth it. “You always dream of winning Worlds. That’s the goal. You give up a lot, but now we see how it paid off,” she says.