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It’s all about the jig for this lass

Eight-year-old Bauer’s love for Irish dancing earns her awards
By: Teresa O'Hanlon, Placer Herald Correspondent
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When Irish eyes are smiling in the Bauer household, it often means 8-year-old Rachel Bauer is step dancing. Bouncing blond curls, the swish of Celtic colors, and little legs that seem to magically leap through the air in sharp contrast to arms held straight. This love of Irish folk dancing all started about two years ago when the Rocklin third grader attended one of the world-famous Riverdance performances with her mom in Sacramento. Rachel, who can trace her ancestry back to County Cork Ireland, decided then and there that Irish dancing was something special. It wasn’t long before she donned a pair of ghillies or soft Irish dance slippers, and joined O’Sullivan’s Dance Academy in Roseville to learn dances like the reel, light jig, slip jig, and the hard-shoed hornpipe. “I felt it was nice for her to do something along the lines of her heritage,” said Karen Bauer, Rachel’s mom. “After seeing Riverdance, she said, ‘I want to try that.’ Rachel’s a quick study and she’s made lots of friends and really enjoys performing.” Today Rachel takes two Irish dance classes a week and competes monthly in feisanna (Irish dancing competitions). To date she’s earned seven medals. “I know four dances and right now I compete in three,” said Rachel. “I feel a little nervous before the feis (pronounced fesh), but when I get up with the other kids, I get excited. After the dance, I always want to see what place I get. If you get to one group as prize winner, you start winning trophies.” At the John Kennelly Memorial Feis in Sacramento last January, Rachel danced in the Beginner 2 category and placed first in both the light jig and the slip jig. “Rachel’s a natural,” said her dance teacher Melissa O’Sullivan, T.C.R.G. “She gets up on stage with a big smile, has great carriage, which is our Irish word for posture, and she’s a hard little worker.” And in a fun twist of fate, when Rachel dances and swirls in her brightly colored Celtic school dress, she wears her teacher’s namesake, the O’Sullivan crest, which also happens to be the birth name of Rachel’s grandmother. “I thought there’s something about the way Rachel dances that reminds me of me when I was little because Rachel has really good timing and I always had really good timing,” remembered O’Sullivan. “And Rachel has the natural turnout and she’s really serious about dance. It’s really funny because Rachel’s mom came back to me and said, ‘Did you know Rachel is an O’Sullivan too?’ I have that crest on the dress in honor of the family name.” So what goes through an Irish dancer’s mind in order to remember all of the turns, leaps, and hops that make-up most two-minute jigs? “Well, if we don’t remember a dance step we’ve learned, Ms. Melissa goes over it and we do it slowly and she says the moves out loud while we’re dancing,” remembered Rachel. “One dance goes hop 2345, leap 2345, change point, change point, change point, hop 123, hop, turn 2345, hop, point, hop back 23, hop 123.” And while remembering the fancy footwork seems hard enough, every dancer at a feis is also judged on carriage, timing, turnout (placement of the feet), and facial expression. When the music stops, children with flushed faces are all smiles for the judges. “It is a sport,” said O’Sullivan. “I very much emphasize the physical fitness aspect of Irish dance.” This Saturday Rachel will be celebrating her Irish roots as she marches with her dance academy friends in Sacramento’s 14th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. The parade kicks off at 1p.m. in Old Sacramento and includes a Celtic festival in Waterfront Park until 6 p.m. And while for most festival-goers the wearing of the green will be loud and lighthearted for just one day, Rachel Bauer will smile and celebrate a love of culture she embraces all year long.