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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Wieseler

A Flurry of Feet

After a year-long world tour, this KC Irish Dancer now spends her free time sharing her love for the ancient art form across the Midwest.


One Sky Magazine

Rapid tapping feet flew across the stage at the 2022 Kansas City Irish Fest. Eight women clad in plaid leaped to the beat as the Kansas City Irish Dance Company commanded their hour-long performance in 80-degree heat.

The Irish Fest is one of their largest performances of the year, but dancer Leslie McDonough wasn’t sweating the pressure. She’s been in the company for around six years, but even before joining the KC Irish Dance Company, she danced on larger stages.

“My friend for Christmas said, ‘I'll help you make an audition tape to send to a dance show to audition.’ And so I was like, ‘Okay, we'll do it.’ It was this Christmas present to me,” McDonough said. “So we made the tape, sent it in, and I didn't really think anything of it. I hadn't heard back, and then a couple months later, I heard that a spot opened up again. So, I was working in this corporate job and I left it, sold everything in two weeks, and then went on tour.

“The company was based in Dublin, so we went to Dublin, had three weeks of training, learning all the numbers, and then we went right on tour. We toured North America for like six weeks. And then we went to Russia for three weeks, then Holland, then China, and then around Europe—Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Romania.”

McDonough has been tapping to Irish tunes from a young age. Appreciation for the Irish culture has been passed down through generations. She picked up Irish dancing after her grandmother, whose parents emigrated from Ireland, took her and her siblings to an Irish dance performance.

“My grandmother danced socially—Irish dancing—when she was younger,” McDonough said. “Her parents were from Ireland, and so they would go to dances when they were younger, and they took us to one when we were kids, like five or six, and we just saw the dancing and we loved it.”

Not long after that, McDonough’s parents found an Irish dancing school in Pittsburgh, where they were living at the time, and she and her younger sister began taking lessons.

Little did six-year-old Leslie know that she would grow up to travel the world performing the traditional dance style.

After she got back from her year and a half-long world tour, McDonough decided that she wanted to pursue her marketing career more aggressively, while still dancing on the side. For awhile, she struggled, not to balance the two, but to even find an outlet for her dance.

“It's not like ballet where there's professional companies in every city basically, where you can continue your dance career,” she said. “It's a lot harder for Irish dancing, because it's more niche and just smaller. There's some troops that you can dance with, but I was kind of tired of touring, and I wanted to continue my marketing career and maybe settle down somewhere but also continue dancing, but it was very hard to do that.”

For a few years, McDonough had to put dance on hold altogether, aside from her occasional solo practices.

Then, in 2016, her company transferred her to Kansas City, a major U.S. city with a relatively large Irish-American population and proud Irish heritage.

“I wanted to connect with the Irish community here, and so I went to the Elders, a famous local Irish band here in Kansas City, and they were playing at Knuckleheads,” she said. “I thought, ‘well, I'll just go and hear the music and maybe meet people.’”

When she arrived, she found adult Irish dancers moving rhythmically to the music, their feet effortlessly tapping and clapping along the floor. They were the KC Irish Dance Company.

Immediately, she was moved to connect with them. Soon enough, she would be dancing right alongside them.

“I felt very fortunate to have found them and of course, I was hooked,” she said. “I never looked back.”

McDonough has been dancing with the KC Irish Dance Company now for six, going on seven, years—all of which is voluntary. The dance company is a nonprofit, so she and the other dancers perform solely for their love of the art form and their passion to share with others.

“It's something for a lot of us that we've done for our whole lives, and we've been so connected to it,” McDonough said. “And now we've developed this group of friends, and we're very supportive of each other. We came for the dancing, but now we have the friendship.

“It's really an amazing group of women that are all very dedicated and very talented dancers. We really enjoy what we do and are passionate about dancing and love to spread the culture around Kansas City and the Midwest.”

This group of eight to 12 dancers hosts a number of performances in Kansas City and surrounding areas throughout the year, with the KC Irish Fest being one of their biggest shows. They perform everything from the traditional Cèilidh group dancing to more modern dance styles mixed with traditional Celtic movements. At the end of the day, the dancers just hope to connect with the audience and share this cultural tradition that has become such a large part of their lives.

“It's really just celebrating the Irish culture and the way that it can bring people together,” McDonough said. “I really love the ability to share something that I personally love and have done my whole life and is part of my heritage and my family heritage, but then to be able to give back and to share that culture with other people has been really rewarding.”

Follow McDonough and the rest of the KC Irish Dance Company on social media as they prepare for their upcoming performances.

See more photos from the KC Irish Dance Company's performance at the 2022 KC Irish Fest below.

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