Trinity Irish Dancers

Born in Yorkshire, England, and raised in Chicago, Mark Howard began his dancing career at age nine. Becoming a North American Champion Irish dancer himself, he launched the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance at age 17. Experiencing great success, the school has won an unprecedented 32 World Championship titles for the United States-the first when Mark was only 25.


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Born in Yorkshire, England, and raised in Chicago, Mark Howard began his dancing career at age nine. Becoming a North American Champion Irish dancer himself, he launched the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance at age 17. Experiencing great success, the school has won an unprecedented 32 World Championship titles for the United States-the first when Mark was only 25. In nearly thirty years since its inception, the Trinity Academy has grown from a dozen students practicing in a church basement, to the largest Irish dance program in the world.

In 1985, Trinity attended their first world championships in Malahide outside of Dublin, Ireland. "We went over there to try and see green fields, eat black pudding and rediscover our roots as Irish Americans," recalls Mark Howard. "Up until that point, American Irish Dance teams were like the Jamaican bobsled teams: fish out of water." Mark was only 23 years old at the time and, as a young coach, his main goal was to not be an embarrassment to the country. "I just didn't want us to come in 19th place out of 19 teams," he said. In the months leading up to the championships, Mark worked feverishly with the dancers. "We pushed neurotically hard," he explained, "because we didn't know how hard we should work." The goal of 'not-to-perform-badly' drove them. All that hard work paid off brilliantly. Instead of the expected 19th, in their first outing overseas, they came home with a silver medal. "It was an unbelievable feeling." Mark recalled. "I remember running through the streets so excited. My sister was the captain and I remember we called my dad [a native Irishman] from a payphone. He had told us that it would be hard for the Americans to get 'respect' in Ireland. So telling him how we placed was wonderful. It made us feel that anything was possible." Back home with silver in hand, they worked even harder knowing anything could happen. And it did. The following year Trinity returned to take silver again. However, this was offset by their junior team being disqualified for pushing the boundaries of Irish dance.

Howard tells the story of The Tonight Show himself: I walked down the hall (like Dead Man Walking) and pass the door where the dancers were waiting. On the door was a sign: "The Tonight Show - Trinity Irish Dancers." I took a moment to look in and the kids looked up with smiles and thumbs up. Seeing them really grounded me. In my mind, I thought, "I can't fail these kids. I have to come through for them. And you know what? I love these kids and if America doesn't love them - oh, well." Little did I know how revolutionary it was going to be. This was the moment that validated Trinity and the progressive art form we created. It truly was a turning point.

 

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