If you’ve ever attended the annual Irish Festival, you’ve
surely seen the girls with the exquisitely embroidered purple dresses and impossibly curly hair, doing fancy footwork while keeping their upper bodies completely still. And no, they aren’t a part of a miniature River Dance: They’re students from Louisville’s McClanahan School of Irish Dance. One longtime student of the McClanahan clan is 18-year-old Avalon Sutherland, a recent graduate of Moore High School.
Sutherland had never taken dance before she started at Heather McClanahan’s Irish step-dance academy, which at the time claimed only one humble classroom in the Clifton Center. Now, a decade later, the school has grown substantially, and Sutherland competes in nationwide competitions, sometimes as many as 10 per year; last year, she took 15th place at the Midwest Oireachtas Championships. But she says her favorite part of growing up in that style of dance is the friends she’s made. “I have this steady thing in my life that I can always go back to,” she explains. “It’s very encouraging.”
In addition to dancing, Sutherland is also a guitar player, and her father owns a music store in southern Louisville. Aside from music and dance, Sutherland has a third pastime: baking. She plans to attend Sullivan University this fall and major in baking and pastry arts.
“I have it all figured out,” she says. “I want to open a bakery/café with a dance studio right next to it.” Seems like a pretty solid business plan, and it’s likely to keep Avalon Sutherland on her toes (yuk yuk yuk). —Jane Mattingly
Jen Pellerin & Samantha Griffith
Thaniel Ion Lee