An Unlikely Irish Troupe From The Bronx

CBS News correspondent Kelly Wallace previews a piece for tonight's Evening News about a special dance troupe from the Bronx, New York .


(CBS)
As we waited to shoot a rehearsal for a very special Irish dance troupe in the Bronx (not one of the kids is Irish!) for tonight's St. Patrick's Day edition of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, one dancer, a young girl who was maybe 8 or 9, turned on the music player. The minute she heard the Irish music, she and a few other girls started dancing in their seats. And then they got up – African American, Hispanic and Indian girls -- tapping, kicking and jumping in Irish step dance unison, with super-sized smiles on their faces.

I could feel myself starting to tear up -- but that wasn't any surprise since I tend to cry during Hallmark commercials. But what was astonishing is I looked over at my colleagues – a photographer and an audio technician – who were beaming. Now these two men, who shall remain nameless, are cool customers who don't tend to get emotionally involved in the stories they cover. But they were moved by what they saw. Their faces said it all.

The dance troupe is the brainchild of 30-year-old Caroline Duggan, a bright, engaging force of nature who left Ireland seven years ago to teach music at elementary school P.S. 59 in the Bronx. What started as a way for her students to understand her -- one of the kids asked when she arrived "Why do you speak funny?" and to learn about Ireland, a place many had never heard of -- has blossomed into the most popular after-school program at the school. Consider this stunning fact: of the 540 students at P.S. 59, 500 have tried out for the group.

But this isn't just a story about a talented group of girls and boys, ages 8 to 14, who can give the dancers of the Irish musical "Riverdance" a run for their money in Irish step dancing. This is about life-changing lessons that show kids from low income households that anything is possible.

"In Irish dancing, we learn that we can be anything we want to be, it doesn't matter where you come from or who you are," 14-year-old Diamond Walker told us during an interview. Said 10-year-old Hector Almonte: "I can just be anything I want."

These kids, many of whom had never been on a plane before, have now flown twice to Ireland and performed for the country's president. They've been to Chicago and Boston and danced for New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. And Monday night, they headlined a St. Patrick's Day gala in Washington, D.C. performing for the Irish Prime Minister, members of congress and other national and international leaders.

While they were hoping they'd be invited to the White House to perform on this St. Patrick's Day for President and Mrs. Obama, they're not giving up. They believe someday the Obamas will want to see them perform especially because they say the troupe epitomizes Mr. Obama's message as a presidential candidate.

"It's a message to children, 'Yes, you can," said Christine McHugh, principal of P.S. 59 and one of the dance troupe's most ardent supporters. "But you have to want it, you have to work for it and it's possible, that's the message, it's possible. Good things and great things are possible."

Diamond Walker already knows that. She's wants to be a dancer and own her own business someday. Hector Almonte aspires to join the police force or become a firefighter.

They call themselves the Keltic Dreams, and they've learned you don't have to have Irish roots to make Keltic Dreams come true.


Watch a documentary on the troupe at 8 pm. Tonight on Showtime.
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