LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — Starting with just a handful of students back in 2015, the Paloma School of Irish Dance in Lancaster County has grown with dozens of dancers, inspiring those in the community to embrace their creativity and Irish roots.
FOX43's photojournalist Owen Daniels visited the school to see how students reach their highest potential as an Irish dancer, no matter what their age.
“I don’t think I could imagine seven years ago where I would be at today, what I would be doing, and the caliber of dancers I get to work with," Esther Pujol, owner and head teacher, said. "They compete all over the east coast, the United States, North America and mostly in the British Isles.”
Pujol's students have danced in over 200 performances, everywhere from local community spaces like nursing homes to across the pond in Ireland with Celtic bands.
“I’d be lying to you if I wasn’t nervous," William Snodgress, a 15-year-old World Competition Dancer, said. "But once you get on that stage, once you start dancing, it like it melts away. You’re like, 'I have spent thousands of hours of my life working for these five minutes.'”
According to the school's website, their mission "is to help everyone reach their highest potential as an Irish Dancer no matter what age, level of natural ability, [or] level of commitment."
“It’s really fun to have that like tingling down your spine and like when you get on the floor how fun it is to like see the judges and like think about how much you’ve accomplished,” Jase Lawrence, a 10-year-old Regional Champion and third in North America, said.
The students are learning from one of the best, as Pujol trained at one of the top Irish dancing schools in North America and reached the highest level of competition. She has also competed nationally.
“It’s been exciting to see them go all the way from learning their first steps to being on that world championship stage,” Pujol said.
The school puts an emphasis on fitness and technique.
“You learn work ethic and what it takes to get to the top," Aiden Ketner, a 15-year-old World Competition Dancer, said. "And I can definitely apply that to school, work, whatever it is.”
“You can only get better if you work hard so like, you just have to like push through,” Lawrence said.
The Paloma School is open to anyone who wants to learn, regardless of if they wish to compete or simply want to pick up a new hobby.
“The family, the community, like your friends, you’re just there with them every class it’s just that kind of thing that makes you happy,” Snodgress said.
“At its roots, Irish dancing is this fun cultural thing you do with your family,” Ketner said.
Paloma brought that sense of Irish culture to Lancaster as the first Irish dance school in the city.
“It’s so exciting for me to see so many years later how much Irish dancing has grown in Lancaster County,” Pujol said.
“It’s always advancing, it’s never staying the same, like compared to a hundred years ago some of the things we’re doing today would have been thought of as unthinkable,” Snodgress said.
Dancers from the Paloma School of Irish Dance will be performing in several locations in Lancaster County today and over the Saint Patrick's weekend—including at Annie Bailey's, Springhouse Brewing and Tellus 360.
You can find a full schedule on their Facebook page.