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Student of the week: 9-year-old gets her kicks from Irish dancing

Irish Dancer

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Nine-year-old Jordan Dillard, of Swansea, likes everything about Irish dance — the high kicks, the jeweled dresses, the trophies and medals and having the chance to shine, individually and as part of a team.

“I like how exciting it is,” she said.

It’s something the lithe, long-haired blonde has been doing for four years. At 5, she was already taking tap and ballet when she went to the Fox Theatre with her dad Rich and her grandma Carol Dillard, to see “River Dance,” an energetic show of Irish music and dance.

“I like how they danced and how they get their kicks up so high, and the dresses, the patterns and stuff,” said Jordan, a fourth-grader at Zion Lutheran School in Belleville.

Rich, a contractor, business consultant and author, was thrilled.

“I secretly hoped it would happen. … She was at the edge of the chair the whole time.”

Jordan remembers what she said. “‘Hey, Mom and Dad, I am kind of interested in this.’ They found an academy for me.”

The O’Faoláin Academy of Irish Dance has studios in O’Fallon and Webster Groves, Mo.

“We started with Miss Fiona over here,” said Stacey, a stay-at-home mom. “This summer, she transferred all of her classes to Webster Groves.”

Jordan is part of the Ceili (pronounced “KAY-lee”) team, composed of eight dancers who pair off into groups of four and dances to the Sweets of May, a type of traditional folk music. Jordan and fellow dancers also learn six basic Irish dances, including a reel and several types of jigs for their solos. Irish music goes with each dance.

For performances, Jordan puts on a curly blond wig, a traditional fancy jeweled dress and steps lively, either loudly tapping or quietly quick-stepping in ballet-type shoes. That evening, she wore a short black tulle “spirit” skirt and her Irish dance school jacket.

“I have gotten used to performing,” she said. “As I got older, I got into it. Now, I can’t stop dancing. I like tap better, but I’ve taken more prizes in soft than in hard.”

Jordan began competing in February of 2013, and hasn’t looked back. Her medals fill a wall in her dad’s office. Her trophies sit nearby.

Which does she prefer, team or solo? “Solo, because you get a lot of trophies.”

Want to see Jordan dance? O'Faoláin Academy of Irish Dance has its monthly fundraiser Sunday, Nov. 1. Dancers perform at 5:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. at Llywelyn’s Pub, 17 W. Moody, Webster Groves, Mo.

The family is musical — Dad plays drums, daughter Patti played harp and daughter Kate sang with her dad’s band. Sister Layla, 3, may be the next dancer. Rich and Stacey weren’t surprised when Jordan wanted to play an instrument. She chose the tin whistle, a type of recorder, usually brass or stainless steel, made in Ireland.

“So far, I’ve only had two competitions,” she said. “I got first.”

“One of the judges was very impressed that Jordan had only been playing two months and was competing and getting the high notes,” said her mom.

Family life revolves around Jordan’s schedule. She carpools to St. Louis three nights a week and on Saturdays. On short days, the dancers practice 1 1/2 hours; long nights, a couple hours.

“The only days I have off are Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays,” said Jordan.

Stacey schedules dinner before Jordan leaves for practice.

“On early dance nights, I have dinner in the oven before I pick her up from school. We sit down, eat and go.”

On a recent weekend, Jordan danced her family to Dayton, Ohio. March is full of St. Patrick’s Day performances. An upcoming competition held annually will take them to Minneapolis.

“Oireachtas (pronounced “o-ROCK-tes) is our big competition,” said Stacey, of the Mid-America championship. “It’s divided in ages, not levels. We leave Friday after Thanksgiving. It’s our third oireachtas. We have Thanksgiving, then start out early Friday morning, and get settled. Teams are Saturday and solos are Sunday.”

Dancing has built as much character as confidence. Her grades have improved. Her relationships have improved.

Rich Dillard on daughter Jordan’s Irish dancing

The Dillards are proud of Jordan.

“You know how that works for parents,” said Rich. “I had grand ideas of her performing to ‘Lord of the Dance.’ Your mind goes to the ultimate end with it. I just encourage her to have fun. She excels in what she does. She’s often complimented. People will say, ‘We enjoyed watching your daughter dance. She’s captivating.’”

They enjoy the camaraderie and support of parents, teachers and other young dancers.

“There are moments of disappointment when she doesn’t place as high as she thought, but she manages it pretty well,” said her dad. “Her biggest source of encouragement is other kids who are marginally older than her. They know what it’s like to have a disappointing day. They helped her self-esteem concept.”

Rich and Stacey like another result of Irish dance.

“She was really shy at school,” said Stacey. “She didn’t really participate much. She found her love. It not only helped her at school to become a better student, it also helped with friends.”

“Dancing has built as much character as confidence,” said Rich. “Her grades have improved. Her relationships have improved.”

Teacher Janel Mueller describes Jordan as a “good student who is kind and always willing to help others.”

“Another reason why we knew this was the right field for her,” said Stacey, “she never did that with traditional tap and ballet. She would come home from class. All right, it’s done. When she started (with Irish dance), she was no longer walking around the house. It was leap, two, three.”

Want to see Jordan dance? O’Faoláin Academy of Irish Dance has its monthly fundraiser Sunday, Nov. 1. Dancers perform at 5:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. at Llywelyn’s Pub, 17 W. Moody, Webster Groves, Mo.

About Jordan Dillard

  • Family: Parents Rich and Stacey, sister Layla, 3 1/2, and grown sisters, Katelyn and Patti
  • School: Zion Lutheran in Belleville
  • Favorite subject: “Pretty much math. When it gets a harder, then it’s English.”
  • Favorite dance: “The reel. I got first in it. It was a soft shoe dance.”
  • Injuries: “I’ve had overuse issues on my ankle. I had to wear a brace.”
  • For fun: “I mostly like playing with my sister and sometimes play my video games. Or I watch TV and take a nap.”
  • TV show: ‘“The Backyardigans.’ I like older stuff.”
  • Favorite meal: “Mom’s fettuccine alfredo.”
  • Favorite snacks: Granola bars and dark chocolate-covered almonds, and a french silk pie blizzard from Dairy Queen.
  • How much Irish? “Rich is a little Irish,” said mom Stacey. “I’m Polish and German.”
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