LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — One year ago, the Paloma School of Irish Dance closed down and canceled their performances due to COVID-19. Today, on St. Patrick’s Day, students performed again for the first time in a year.
“We missed St. Patrick’s Day last year, and we had a lot of broken-hearted children,” says Esther Pujol, owner and headteacher of the Paloma School of Irish Dance in Lancaster. “[I’m] just so happy to see the kids dancing again. They’re so excited to get back out there and share their craft and do what they love to do.”
A group of about a dozen students performed at Annie Bailey’s Irish Public House and other venues around Lancaster on Wednesday. “It’s wonderful,” says Naomi, 13, a student at the Paloma School of Irish Dance. “We’re back and normal. It’s different, but it’s normal.”
Since closing down last year, the Paloma School of Irish Dance has been holding virtual classes via Zoom. Pujol says this helped the school expand its reach to students in other states and even in Canada, but it’s also been challenging for students to practice remotely.
Recently students have been able to return to the studio following safety guidelines that include reduced capacity, social distancing and face masks. The school also offers hybrid classes, with some dancers present in person and some participating online.
Pujol created the Paloma School of Irish Dance in 2015 after dancing from a young age herself. She and her sisters were the first Irish dancers in Lancaster County, and they had to travel outside of the county to take lessons.
Now, Pujol shares her love of Irish dance with her students. “My favorite memory is probably the first day I came to class and I could not stop moving my feet,” says Jase, an 8-year-old student at the Paloma School of Irish Dance.
“There’s a lot to like about Irish dance,” says Malakye, 18, another student. “First of all, it’s an art form that you can’t perfect, so there’s always something you can learn from somebody else…and there will always be people willing to help you.”
Students at the Paloma School of Irish Dance range from two to 57 years old. They study Irish dance, perform, and participate in regional, national and worldwide competitions.
“There’s so many children now that are involved in Irish music, Scottish music, Irish dancing, and giving them those opportunities to share what they love with the rest of the world and have opportunities to compete and perform, as well, is a passion of mine,” says Pujol.
In addition to owning the Paloma School of Irish Dance, Pujol founded the Lancaster Celtic Arts Foundation, which puts on the annual Rose and Shamrock Festival and helped start Celtic Night at the Barnstormers.
“The Celtic community here in Lancaster continues to grow, and those people want a place where they can come together and share that common love,” says Pujol. “I think it’s important to remember our roots, remember our traditions.”
Pujol’s family roots inspired her to become an Irish dancer. “My grandmother was born and raised in Waterford, Ireland, and she was a champion Irish dancer, so it was in our blood,” says Pujol. Her grandmother passed away before she was born, and “we do Irish dancing to keep her memory alive,” she says.