Student McKendrey McGown, left, and instructor Nora Parker dance at the Elevation Dance Studio in Steamboat Springs. Parker is opening her own studio, a chapter of the Bennett School of Irish Dance, next week at Excel Gymnastics.

Photo by John F. Russell

Student McKendrey McGown, left, and instructor Nora Parker dance at the Elevation Dance Studio in Steamboat Springs. Parker is opening her own studio, a chapter of the Bennett School of Irish Dance, next week at Excel Gymnastics.

Dancer to open local chapter of Bennett School of Irish Dance in Steamboat

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If you go

What: Elevation Dance Studio open house

When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday

Where: Elevation Dance Studio, 326 Oak St.

Cost: Free

Call: 970-871-1880 for more information

If you go

What: Bennett School of Irish Dance open house

When: 4:15 to 5:15 p.m. Thursday

Where: Excel Gymnastics, 1955 Bridge Lane

Cost: Free

Call: 970-879-2205 for more information

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Courtesy photo

Nora Parker, second from left, poses with fellow dancers at the Bennett School of Irish Dance.

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Courtesy photo

Nora Parker competes for the Bennett School of Irish Dance in 2010.

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Eight-year-old Thea Dardanis shows off her colorful socks during an Irish Dance Class at the Elevation Dance Studio Thursday evening. Instructor Nora Parker is opening her own studio, a chapter of the Bennett School of Irish Dance, next week at Excel Gymnastics.

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Eight-year-old Thea Dardanis learns a new dance from instructor Nora Parker during an Irish Dance Class at the Elevation Dance Studio Thursday evening. Parker is opening her own studio, a chapter of the Bennett School of Irish Dance, next week at Excel Gymnastics.

— Thea Dardanis was breathing heavily as she walked over to the barre and took a long sip of water.

“I’m exhausted,” the 8-year-old announced. Behind her, high school freshman McKendrey McGown and dance teacher Nora Parker were practicing a complex jig in front of the mirror at Elevation Dance Studio.

While she waited, Thea practiced in the corner, repeating “Up-down, one-two-three-four” over and over.

And by the end of class, she had the combination dialed. Her feet were hitting the floor right on the beat, with her toes pointed and a smile on her face.

“It feels really good when you get it,” Thea said. “But when you’re starting, it’s really, really difficult.”

It was Thursday afternoon and Parker was leading her weekly Irish dance class. But soon, the competitive dancer and longtime local will have her own studio and much more than one hour a week to train dancers like Thea and McKendrey.

Parker is opening a local chapter of the Bennett School of Irish Dance next week, beginning with an open house from 4:15 to 5:15 p.m. Thursday at Excel Gymnastics.

The school, which will be considered part of the accredited Bennett School in Denver, where Parker trains, will offer nine hours of classes a week for dancers of all ages and abilities.

“I’m looking forward to having a vibrant Irish dance community,” she said. “Being an Irish dancer in Steamboat can be a lonely thing if you didn’t have people to dance with.”

Parker said she was inspired by Elevation Dance Studio owner Renee Fleischer, who started her studio a year ago. Parker has been holding her classes at Elevation and in various other spaces around town for eight years.

With about 10 students and an ambition to grow on and off the dance floor, Parker was ready to take the next step several months ago by looking for her own space, which she found at Excel Gymnastics after a previous dance studio there closed.

Parker said that she has danced in various styles for many years but that Irish dancing has been the hardest. Still, in the past eight years, she’s worked her way up to the level of preliminary champion, competing against adults and teenagers across the country.

Now, while continuing to compete about seven times a year, Parker is taking others on her journey, as well.

McKendrey, who’s father, Chad, is also one of Parker’s students, said she started Irish dance three years ago.

“I love the music,” McKendrey said Thursday between jigs and reels. “I’ve always watched it, and it’s so cool how you move your feet. You have to have a lot of stamina.”

The world of Irish dancing has its own culture, characterized by the Celtic vocabulary, a team-oriented atmosphere and is influenced by the control and precision of the dance itself.

But the joy Parker gets from teaching comes from watching a dance click with someone for the first time.

She recalls one student who had never danced before and made it all the way to the Prizewinner competition level.

“That felt really good,” she said. “It’s so … put-yourself-out-there-ish, but when you do, the feeling is a rush.”

Elevation to host event

Elevation Dance Studio on Oak Street will host its fall open house from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday with half-hour sampler classes. The free classes offer a glimpse at the studio’s fall programming. Elevation also offers a selection of fitness dance classes. Go to www.elevationdancestudio.com for more information.

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com

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