Dancers bring a bit o’ Irish to Walter Reed -- Gazette.Net







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They say that everybody is a little bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. That seemed to be true Thursday morning as patients and staff at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center enjoyed a lively, festive performance by the Hurley School of Irish Dance.

Eyes were smiling, hands were clapping and toes were tapping as 18 dancers performed from the Laytonsville-based studio, owned by dance instructor Annie Hurley Morrison.

Morrison said this is the second year they have performed at Walter Reed. Several of her dancers have parents who work there. Because her husband was with the military, she was happy to be a part of the Irish Heritage celebration.

“I am so supportive of all that the military personnel do, especially at the hospital, since I am a nurse,” she said. “I was absolutely thrilled to bring our dancers to share the culture. You could tell everyone enjoyed it.”

U.S. Army Sgt. Jason Zielske is the chairman of the Bethesda Multicultural Committee, responsible for promoting the education of monthly ethnic observances for patients and staff.

“I do this at other military bases, too, and this is the first time we have planned an Irish Heritage event,” he said. “These dancers came to perform last year and I was blown away.”

The performance took place in the lobby of the America Building.

“This is our outpatient center, so we bring the performances to the folks, rather than have it in an auditorium,” he said. “Once it starts, there will be 100 to 150 people that fill the area.”

U.S. Army Chaplain Maj. Denise Hagler said she has wanted to see the Riverdance theatrical performance for years.

“This is the closest I have come, and it was absolutely fabulous,” she said.

U.S. Army Chaplain Col. Robert Louis Powers Jr. said he appreciated that the dancers came out to support the patients and the staff.

“Things like this just help to bring us all together,” he said.

Caroline O’Donnell of Damascus has been taking Irish dance classes for 10 of her 15 years.

“This was a lot of fun, and I was really proud to perform for the soldiers that fight for us,” she said. “We are happy to give back.”

Rileigh Miranda, 15, of Germantown has been dancing for six years.

“My mom works here, so it was really fun for me to dance for her colleagues,” she said.

Following the performance, the dancers and their families mingled with patients and staff, as cake and green punch were served.

Morrison, 28, of Damascus, said that because her father is from Ireland, she started Irish dancing at the age of 6.

She danced at the Pendergrast School in Gaithersburg until she went to college and got her nursing degree. She taught one class a week as a hobby, but the demand eventually led her to put her nursing career on hold, while starting a family and opening her studio in the Layton’s Village shopping center in 2006.

Earlier this year, the studio expanded to a larger space in the center.

She now has 130 students, most ranging in age from 5 to 21. She also offers mini-sessions to preschoolers and adults.

She attributed much of the interest to Riverdance and said that Irish Dance has become much more athletic and demanding in recent years.

“It’s the music and the fact that it is just so contagious,” she said. “Once you get into it, you see that we are just one big happy family. I have lifelong memories of dancing and the friendships I made, and it is awesome to share that with these kids.”

Hurley said March is like the “Super Bowl” of Irish Dance. In addition to the performance at Walter Reed and several other recent performances, the girls will perform this weekend in St. Patrick’s Day parades in Gaithersburg and Washington, D.C.

Two of the school’s dancers are solo qualifiers who are preparing to compete in the World Championships in Boston later this month.

“I’m so proud of what these kids do, and I was glad to share that at the hospital today,” Morrison said.

For more information on the Hurley School of Irish Dance, go to