IOWA CITY — Trea Champagne can’t remember the start of her Irish dance career.
For her, the Irish culture has always been a part of her life and a part of her heritage. So it’s only natural that her family, full of Irish dancers and musicians, was excited when Champagne recently earned the top certification in Irish dance through a rigorous process she compares to earning an master’s degree or Ph.D.
“I think it had a deep family connection for her,” said Rick Bennett, her partner. “It’s more of a life for her. Every single day there is something about Irish dance going on in her life.”
Her certification is called Teasgicoir Choimisiuin Le Rinci Gaelacha, and it means she can now bring her dancers at Champagne Academy of Irish Dance to international competitions.
Earning the certification takes a week of testing, including written, dance, music and teaching exams, among others. The testing has a pass rate of less than 30 percent, according to a media release from the dance academy.
“It’s something that you study basically your whole life,” said Champagne, who traveled to Chicago in August to take the exam. “You’re in front of a board and these are people who know everything about Irish dance. It’s pretty grueling.”
But studying for the test wasn’t the first challenge Champagne met during her dance career. She first had to build an Irish dance community from the ground up in Iowa City.
When Champagne, who is originally from Minneapolis, came to Iowa City in 2007 as a University of Iowa graduate student, there was nowhere for her to dance. Instead of giving up what she loved to do, she began a school to teach dancers the art so she’d have someone to dance with.
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Champagne now teaches 25 dancers on Tuesday and Thursday nights, with additional private lessons for the more advanced. She said she’s in the process of finding a new studio space before preparations for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations begin.
“It’s grown a community of people that recognizes just a beautiful art form,” Champagne said.
She added she’s excited to be able to teach her and Rick’s two children the art as well, an opportunity she said she may not have gotten unless she had moved.
Champagne’s next step will be to hopefully plan a trip to her graduation at the April 2017 Irish Dance World Championships in Dublin and begin taking her students to national and international competitions.
“It’s something I can’t ever imagine not doing,” Champagne said.
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