WILLIAMSBURG– Irish dance runs through Sara Zimmerman’s blood and Saint Patrick’s Day is far from a one-day celebration at the Rhodes Academy of Irish Dance.
Zimmerman began Irish dance at the age of nine and never looked back. The love of dance came early on, but it was the exposure to Riverdance that sealed the deal.
“I started dancing because I watched Riverdance on PBS. My grandma saw Riverdance and Michael Flately and she said ‘Oh this is great’ and she showed me and I fell in love with it. This was before the age of internet and social media so it took a bit to figure out where classes were locally but we found someone in Virginia Beach. I stuck with it and committed to it and showed the passion so we just never stopped,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman competed internationally in the art of Irish dance until she was 23. The competitive world gave way to the idea of performing Irish dance in shows. As a Hampton Roads local, Zimmerman saw Celtic Fyre at Busch Gardens and knew she belonged on that stage.
“I wanted to get into shows from day one. I didn’t even know there was a competition side to Irish dance. When I found that in order to get into shows, you had to compete, I just said ‘okay, I guess this is what I have to do.'” Zimmerman says.
While continuing to compete, Zimmerman found her way onto the Abbey Stone Theater stage at Busch Gardens. Beginning her career in Celtic Fyre as a substitute dancer, she worked her way through the ranks and was eventually cast as the bride in the show.
Now working to teach the next generation of Irish dancers, Zimmerman is a one woman show at Rhodes Academy of Irish Dance. Part teacher, part business owner, part competitive coach, part office assistant, Zimmerman does it all and loves every second.
“Growing up, I was always one of the older dancers and I’m also one of those types of people who hates to see people struggle. If there were kids that were struggling with a step or the teacher wasn’t necessarily working with them one on one, I stepped in and offered to help. I just found it very easy to instruct and it just clicked with me,” Zimmerman shared.
The dancers at Rhodes Academy know that March will always be their busy season. With all sorts of Saint Patrick’s Day events scheduled throughout the peninsula, it’s no surprise that most evenings and weekends are filled with reels and jigs.
Zimmerman’s life has come full circle as now some of her very own students are dancing on the very same stage at Busch Gardens where she got her start. When Zimmerman looks back at the life that Irish dance has provided for her, it’s been filled with positive and dreamlike moments. One of the standout memories is dancing alongside Irish dance legend Michael Flatley.
“I auditioned and I was one of five dancers accepted to do the Eastern European tour of Riverdance. We toured for a month in Eastern Europe and then they brought the cast back to New York City where I danced for six weeks on Broadway with Michael Flately. That was one of his last shows that he did before he officially retired and that was such a dream come true. I was directly behind him in the show and I still close my eyes and see him dancing right in front of me,” Zimmerman said.
As Saint Patrick’s Day comes to a close in 2023, things at Rhodes Academy are just starting. Students are busy rehearsing for regional competitions with the hopes of qualifying to the World Championships slated for April 2-9 in Montreal.
For more information on Rhodes Academy of Irish Dance, visit RhodesIrishDance.com.