When Jackie Mullen started Tara School of Irish Dancing 15 years ago she expected a small class of maybe four or five students made up of her daughter and some friends.
Then Michael Flatley’s Riverdance exploded into the public consciousness, and she found business was booming.
“My phone rang off the hook,” Mullen told The Daily News earlier this week. “Back then my mom and dad were living in town and I had to call my mom out of retirement.”
She and her mom ended up teaching 12 classes a week and, eventually had to stop renting a studio and take over space of their own. No advertising was needed; students enrolled strictly from word of mouth.
“It went very well,” said Mullen.
Her mom eventually moved to Campbell River and started her own school, leaving Mullen, who is also a secretary at Thompson Rivers University, to run the school. In essence, she’s worked two jobs for a number of years.
“This was just supposed to be a side passion,” she said.
The Tara School of Irish Dancing remains a passion for Mullen and her students, who number 45 at the moment. And a tradition she started years ago is the year-end performance, which provides her pupils with a chance to shine and celebrate months of hard work.
One of the many things that makes Mullen proud about her school and her students is that some of the dancers have been with her for 14 years and have danced in many such performances.
“They are pretty dedicated and passionate about dancing,” said Mullen. “My senior teens, I taught them since they were eight years old and now they’re following me around the university.”
Irish Rocks caps off a successful year for the dancers, who have enjoyed a number of performances including accompanying the Thompson Valley Community Orchestra during a winter concert earlier this year.
That performance connected Mullen with Christina Zaenker and Neil Burnett, a pair of TRU professors who play the harp and cello and share Mullen’s passion for Irish music and dance.
“When I heard them, I could just see the passion and the genius of their music,” she said. “They just love our dancers, too, saying they are powerful and graceful.”
Mullen asked the couple to perform at the year-end show. Much to her delight, Zaenker and Burnett agreed.
They will provide musical accompaniment for the Tara dancers, who perform routines Mullen put together. As for the name Irish Rocks, the rock is a dance movement unique to Irish dancing, she said. Plus, Mullen likes hard-rock music so some of the songs come with a heavier feel.
“We’re dancing to incredible Irish music as well as some pieces that aren’t traditionally Irish. It’s very modern day,” she said.
Mullen promised what she hopes will be a packed house an hour of passionate music and dance that will feature heavy rhythms and a special slip jig.
“It will get the audiences toes tapping and clapping. If the audience participates and claps, it’s welcomed,” she said.
This is an all-ages concert.
WHAT: Irish Rocks!
WHEN: Sunday, May 27, at 7 p.m.
WHERE: Sagebrush Theatre
TICKETS: $15 for adults, $13 for children at Kamloops Live! Box Office