Spotlight Iowa City: Digging the jig


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If jumping up and down in a black unitard, plastic silver mask, and thick leather shoes in excruciating summer heat for 16 hours isn’t the definition of passion, the word is indefinable.

While most would consider such a feat unbearable, UI junior Nora Murphy retells the event with a wry smile and nostalgic twinkle in her eye. After she had spent 15 years as an Irish dancer, electronic company LG — its Korea branch — commissioned dancers, including Murphy, for a flat-screen TV commercial filmed in Chicago and the opportunity to train with Lord of the Dance. That’s where the blistering heat came in.

Murphy has been in the trade since the ripe age of 3, and she has performed nationally and globally since she was 7.

It all started when the Chicago native’s uninterested brother refused to wear the traditional Irish dance kilt. Murphy begged her mother to sign her up for classes instead. She’s never looked back.
Her dreams came true the first time she first traveled to Ireland to compete.

“I’d always dreamed of dancing in Ireland,” she said. “I guess that was just a dream come true to be up on that stage; [it] was probably the highlight of my dancing career.”

Accompanying Murphy to Ireland, fellow dancer Mary Lynch said nothing deterred her friend from dancing.

“She was always very motivated,” Lynch said. “Even if she was struggling with a step or having a bad day, she’d fight through it and remain positive, no matter what.”

It might have to do with that something the dancer has.

“It was obvious, from the age of 5, that Nora was very passionate about Irish dancing,” said Kathleen O’Carroll, the director of Cross Keys School of Irish Dance and Murphy’s former teacher.

That something also came across in Murphy’s animated descriptions about the importance of dance in her life. The wavy-haired brunette’s passion was conveyed through her effortless concentration when improvising dance moves in her plaid sneakers. Her rubber-toed feet moved so fast they seemed to float over her kitchen’s floor.

Murphy explained that Irish dancing often serves as an “icebreaker” because it is such a core element in her life.

“[Irish dancing] always seems to come up. Probably because I’m so in love with it,” she said. “Then everyone becomes interested, and they want to see, so I’ll end up dancing at parties where I don’t know anyone.”

In addition to teaching the art form to children in Chicago, she’s managed to combine her love of theater and Irish dancing to pave a career path. Majoring in theater arts with a concentration in costume design, she has designed costumes for three productions at the university this year. That interest stemmed from helping design her first Irish dance costume, which usually run $2,500.

Murphy’s genuine appreciation of the art form — minus some new additions — becomes apparent after spending just a short amount of time with her.

“I do think there’s an element of how you present yourself onstage … an element of … glamour,” Murphy said. “I’m not a fan of what it’s turning into — they’re even having spray tan booths at the competitions.”

Fake tanning and glitter aside, her love of the dance thrives.

“I love being able to hear the Irish tune and just belt it out,” she said. “I love everything about it.”

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