The Villanova Irish Dance Team brings a rich cultural tradition to new audiences
By Meg Maxwell
Long before she enrolled at Villanova, Abby Donoghue ’24 COE was a competitive Irish dancer, training for hours each week and traveling almost every weekend to a feis (pronounced fesh)—an Irish dance competition. When Abby arrived on campus, she thought she might take a break from dance, but the Villanova Irish Dance Team’s promise of camaraderie, athleticism and enjoyment proved too hard to resist.
Now team captain, Abby emphasizes that the group is open to all—from those with extensive experience to students who have never danced a step. “A lot of us came from a super-competitive background, but we don’t want that in our college Irish dance experience,” she says. “Our focus is on building community and dancing for fun.”
Members attend weekly rehearsals in St. Mary’s Hall to perfect dances, work on drills and keep up with competition sets. Founded in 2006, the student-run team has become a staple of the Villanova performing arts and cultural communities, and they regularly perform at events on and off campus—especially around St. Patrick’s Day.
“Villanova is highly regarded by the collegiate Irish dance community. The strength of the program is a real draw for students who want to pursue their academic goals without walking away from their passion for Irish dance.”
Rory Beglane ’16 COE
The team has also been instrumental in raising the profile of collegiate Irish dance at the regional and national level. Since 2013, the group has hosted the annual Intercollegiate Irish Dance Festival each fall, welcoming college teams from across the country to the Jake Nevin Field House for a celebration of traditional Irish dance with modern flair.
“Villanova is highly regarded by the collegiate Irish dance community,” says Rory Beglane ’16 COE, former co-captain and co-founder of the festival. “The strength of the program is a real draw for students who want to pursue their academic goals without walking away from their passion for Irish dance.”
This spring, the Villanova Irish Dance Team will travel to Iona University in New Rochelle, N.Y., for the inaugural National Collegiate Irish Dance Championships. Abby says, “We’ve been working hard all fall, so we’re really hoping to go and give it our all and hopefully take home the gold. But regardless, we’ll be part of something historic.”
An elite Irish dancer and member of the Villanova Irish Dance Team, Emily McFadden ’24 FCN earned a spot last fall in the cast of the 25th anniversary tour of Riverdance—the world-famous celebration of Irish music and dance—traveling first to Dubai and then visiting cities across the US. She appeared with the troupe on an episode of America’s Got Talent, and danced at the Kennedy Center.