By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
For as long as she can remember, Jillian Wolf always wanted to be an Irish dancer.
She started tap and ballet when she was only two, but it was not until she was 11 when she at last found a place to take Irish dance lessons. She was hooked. She loved everything about it.
“I love how it’s an art form and a sport all rolled into one, I love the combination of grace and power, I love creating rhythms and flying across the floor, and I love the community and being part of a team,” said the Oxford native.
Ten years after her first Irish dance lesson, at age 21, she is the assistant director of Motor City Irish Dance, a studio in Rochester. Wolf is a teacher, choreographer and performer – each of which she enjoys equally.
“When I teach, I’m able to share my passion with others and have an impact on their lives,” she said. “Irish dance has had a huge impact on my life and I’ve learned so much from it. . .”
The studio has been holding classes via Zoom since mid-March. Before the pandemic, they had just started classes at Great Lakes Kids Energy Zone in Oxford as a satellite location.
Choreography is a creative outlet for her. “It’s amazing to come up with an idea or see something in my head and then bring it to life with a team of dancers – I love working with them to create something bigger than anything I could create by myself,” she said.
Performing allows her to connect with others and bring them joy. “Sometimes it’s a live band who is really feeling the music, other times it’s a packed audience who’s extremely into the show and clapping along to the music and cheering, or it might even be finishing that last bit of the dance and realizing that you and your team just nailed that number.”
She has performed around the city, at Comerica Park, in the Detroit St. Patrick’s Day Parade, on live TV, and on a table over patrons at Cork & Gable, an Irish fusion restaurant in Corktown. Motor City Irish Dance typically has 60 performances on and around St. Patrick’s Day. “The excitement, the anticipation, the adrenaline, the electricity of the energy in the room, the freedom … It’s magical, and it’s such a special and amazing feeling that’s really hard to put into words.”
Wolf has “a little bit” of Irish heritage, but she always says she’s “Irish at heart.” Someday, she hopes to go to Ireland to “experience it all first-hand.”
One of the first things that people notice about Irish dance is the lack of arm movement. In traditional Irish dance, dancers hold their arms down at their side.
“This is really unique because most other dance forms use their arms, while Irish dancers are trained to hold their upper body completely still while the lower body is dancing really quickly, rhythmically, and energetically.”
Irish dance also has a lot of variation within it. “There are different styles like step, ceili, festival, and sean nos – there’s really something for everyone of all ages and abilities. Even within step dance, there’s both light shoe and heavy shoe dancing. . . Because of the diversity in styles, Irish dance can switch from soft and graceful to hard-hitting and powerful within seconds.”
Right now Wolf is participating in a video scholarship competition for Fusion Dance Fest, a world-wide Irish dance camp held entirely online at the end of July.
The video she entered features a split-screen of three synchronized clips of her dancing a heavy shoe step dance she choreographed.
“For heavy shoe,” she explained, “dancers wear jig shoes, which are more like tap shoes, and that style is driven by rhythm more than tricks. Jig shoes were originally designed as a musical instrument; the tips and heels are made of different densities of fiberglass, so you can make a different sound based on how you use the shoe.”
The dancer whose video receives the most views wins a scholarship to the camp, along with the title of 2020 Scholarship Winner.
“Not only does the video competition give me a chance to earn a scholarship for the camp,” she said, “but it’s also an incredible opportunity to showcase the Irish dance that we have right here in Michigan – including my studio, Motor City Irish Dance, in the metro Detroit area. I’m thrilled that I’m able to share this with a worldwide audience.”
Wolf has until 1:30 p.m. on July 4 to get as many views as possible. Her video can be found on the Fusion Fighters’ Facebook page. Click here to watch.
By James Hanlon