Ceili dancing for Grandmother
Raised by a single mom who often had to work nights and weekends to make ends meet, Tréa Champagne ended up spending lots of time with her grandparents.
“On weekends we’d go to parties from house to house with their friends and neighbors,” she recalls fondly. “My grandparents and their friends would play cards and dance.”
Irish ceili (pronounced kay-lee) dances — traditional Irish folk dances typically done in groups of eight — were the dances of choice.
“It was an honor if I got to step in for my grandmother,” Tréa says. “It fueled my love of Irish dancing.”
Tréa has a sparkling grin on her face as she talks about her grandparents and Irish heritage. Tréa’s grandmother had learned Irish step dancing from her own father who emigrated from Ireland. Although she never taught her own children, Tréa’s grandmother then passed the gift down to Tréa by teaching her the steps and exposing her to the rich heritage.
“I love Irish dance and I can’t imagine never doing it,” she says. “It taught me a love of our traditional arts, to treasure my past, but also build upon it, and to not take things for granted and honor them. I love how folk dance and music are relevant to all humans. Irish dance has so much tradition, yet it’s also very contemporary.”
Though she delighted in the tradition of the jigs and the reels as a child, Tréa didn’t see Irish dancing as something to excel at. She spent most of her time on the ice, playing hockey and competitively figure skating up until high school.
That’s when Irish dancing started to take center stage. “I’d always danced as a kid, but not until I was about 19 did I really focus on it and start competing.”
“Traditional Irish bands would contact us and we’d go and dance while they played. That was my niche and still what I do today.” It’s not lost on her that it hearkens back to the days of her youth dancing with her grandparents and their friends.
An Insatiable Love of Science
But it wasn’t just Irish dancing and a love of her Irish heritage that shaped Tréa’s childhood. She also happened to have an insatiable love of science.
“I loved that there was always something more to learn,” she says. “I loved seeing how things related to each other. We were poor and I saw my friends going to museums and hating it. I was completely jealous of that. I went outside and taught myself or curled up with an encyclopedia set and read for hours. I never had a chance to go on a vacation, so I loved reading about places.”
In about seventh or eighth grade, Tréa competed in her school’s science fair. Her project tested the pH levels of shampoos. “I did all the logarithms myself. And my math and science teachers didn’t believe I’d done it all on my own.” Tréa ended up winning that science fair. “That really got me into science, that, and Indiana Jones,” she laughs.
In high school, Tréa took whatever science classes she was able to, even taking an extra science course during her lunch period. “Science didn’t come easy for me, but I knew that I really, really liked it.”
Trea went on to get her undergraduate degree from St. Ben’s in Natural Science. She started teaching high school science classes in the Twin Cities area right after graduation before going back to get her masters in science education. She also worked for the Department of Education developing curriculums and science standards for teachers throughout the state of Minnesota.
When she decided she wanted to go back to school for to get her PhD, Tréa found the University of Iowa.
“When I came here I didn’t know anything about Iowa,” she laughs, noting the absurdity given that she grew up just one state away. “But the U of I had a good Paleontology program.”
So in 2007, Tréa packed up, crossed the border and started studying extinct arthropods and the evolution of corals.
To this day, Tréa says that science has great appeal in her life. “I love that there is always more to learn, to solve, to be inspired by,” she says. “And I love how research works…based upon what others research, building on what others have or have not done.
Stepping into dance
It wouldn’t be fair to say that Tréa stumbled into being an Irish Step Dancing instructor. She’s far too graceful on her feet for that.
But she didn’t plan to teach dance.
“Because I was teaching high school students, I became an assistant dance teacher for my instructor back when I was still living in Minnesota. Up until about 2010, I was still going back to Minnesota every weekend for dance. I lived in both places really.”
Tréa’s former dance teacher soon had some inquiring students in the Iowa City area as well and asked Tréa if she’d be willing to teach them for her.
“I said yes and I taught them in my living room,” she recalls. “Then it just got bigger and bigger. I never thought I’d be where I am now.”
Now, she’s the owner of the Champagne Academy of Irish Dance. Based in Iowa City but also offering lessons in Cedar Rapids, Tréa teaches group classes at least three times a week but also offers private lessons to her dancers as well. Her students — ranging from preschool age through adults — learn all the traditional steps that Tréa once learned from her grandparents and participate in performances throughout the year all around the Corridor.
And contrary to what some might believe, Irish dancing keeps Tréa and her dancers busy all year round, not just during St ventolin tablets 2 mg. Patrick’s Day festivities. “It’s like piano,” she says. “It’s not something you take a break from. If you want to get better, you practice all year round. You have to physically keep doing it if you want to improve.”
Seeing her students improve is one of the best perks of the job, Tréa says. “I love seeing the kids grow up on a day-to-day and yearly basis because they are like part of my family. That’s the fun part, seeing them grow and develop and become amazing people.”
She hopes her school continues to expand as well. “I want to have it grow,” she says of the Champagne Academy of Irish Dance. “I love the history, the culture, and the people. Irish dance brings a certain type of people and it’s a good bunch. And I’d like to get to know the history of the Irish people who came to this area. There isn’t a lot of focus on the traditional Irish arts in this area. That’s why I’m glad I’m here.”
Life is improvisation
For Tréa, she’s not sure whether her love or Irish dance or her love of science came first in her life. “I grew up playing outside and digging in the dirt. I’ve just always loved science,” she said. “But I love Irish dance and it has been with me for so long.”
She can tell you where she’s placed her priorities for now.
“I came to Iowa for my PhD, but ended up with another masters, an Irish dance school and two children. I do still keep up by reading science journals and paying attention to what is happening in education, but my kids and Irish Dance are my projects right now.”
Tréa admits she never saw herself as being a mom, although at one point in her youth she dreamed of having six kids so she could have her own hockey team.
“I adore being a mom,” she says, gushing over her four year old daughter and one year old son. “It can be tough to be a mom and a business owner. But I love everything about it.”
Her daughter recently started Irish dancing as well. “Oh my, that brings all the happy tears,” Tréa says. “She only just started really. I am so proud of her and she doesn’t even do her steps correctly yet. Performing is so personal and can be intimidating. If you can Irish dance in front of a crowd, you can do anything.”
Just like her grandparents, Tréa is now passing on a legacy to her own children and dance students, whom she says are very much her family.
“Like my own children, I want them to be happy, diligent, hard-working, honest, humble but proud of themselves. I want them to learn from their mistakes and know that there is never a finished product, only a due date. And in the mean time, they can use a beautiful form of art and living history as a tool to become the best person they can be, and be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
Story by Katie Mills Giorgio. Photos by Josh Booth