Associate Professor of Medicine Kicks Up Her Heels as Irish Dance Instructor
St. Patrick's Day is right around the corner, which means it's busy season for Dr. Rosemary Browne, an associate professor in the UA College of Medicine.
That's because in addition to practicing and teaching medicine, she also is an Irish dance instructor, and her students are in high demand this time of year.
Browne co-directs the Tir Conaill Academy of Irish Dance, which provides lessons for dancers of all ages, who perform and compete locally, nationally and internationally. March always proves a busy month for the school, and several of Browne's students will perform at the Tucson Festival of Books on Saturday and at the Tucson St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival downtown on Sunday.
Browne's passion for Irish dance began when she was just 4 years old, living in Connecticut. Her parents, who came to the United States from Ireland, enrolled all five of their children in Irish dance classes to help keep them connected with their Irish heritage.
Browne says she fell in love with Irish dance from her very first lesson, and in the years that followed she performed and competed on stages around the nation and world, including Carnegie Hall in New York City when she was a teenager.
Although Browne took a break from dance to pursue her medical education at the University of Connecticut, she later came back to it and eventually became a dance instructor. She says dancing gives her an opportunity to use a different side of her brain than the one she uses in her medical career.
"It's great fun, it's great exercise and it's a great way to connect with my Irish heritage," says Browne, who serves as medical director for home-based primary care at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System, in addition to teaching medical students and residents as part of the UA College of Medicine.
When Browne moved to Tucson from Connecticut in 1992 with her three children, she worried that there might not be many Irish dance opportunities in the desert. However, she was pleased to discover a vibrant Irish community in Tucson and she quickly became involved, taking part not only in dancing but organizing local events centered on Irish culture.
"I love everything Irish. I identify with it very much so I was very happy to find a wonderful Irish community here in Tucson," she says.
Browne began teaching Irish dance locally in 1997 and became an officially licensed Irish dance instructor in 1999, after rigorous testing.
"It was a pretty intense exam, and I've taken a lot of exams in my life," quips Browne, who is board certified in internal medicine and in geriatric medicine.
Among Browne's first formal dance students were her two sons and her daughter, Caitlin, who has competed in Irish dance at the international level. It was at the World Irish Dancing Championship in Scotland in 2002 that Browne – there as her daughter's coach – met Christopher McGrory, a world renowned Irish feis musician and an accomplished Irish dance teacher.
Browne subsequently married McGrory, a native of Ireland, and the couple started the Tir Conaill Academy of Irish Dance in Tucson in 2005, later opening a second location in Albuquerque.
Tir Conaill Academy now has more than 120 students, eight of whom qualified this year for the World Irish Dancing Championship, which is the highest of level of competition for Irish dancers.
While Browne no longer competes, she says she loves to watch her students dance and to help design the elaborate costumes they wear when they perform.
For those unfamiliar with Irish dancing, Browne is quick to point out that mastering it isn't easy. The style's intricate steps, and the task of keeping the upper body perfectly still while the lower body does all the work, make it uniquely challenging, Browne says.
"It's a sport, and it's technically very difficult as well as being very athletic," Browne says.
Still, anyone can participate. Students at her school have varying levels of experience and range in age from 3 to 60-plus. Says Browne: "You can take it up any time."
Dancers from the Tir Conaill Academy of Irish Dance will perform at the Tucson Festival of Books on Saturday from 4-4:50 p.m. on the Science City Food Court Stage on the UA Mall. The dancers also will perform during the Tucson St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival, which starts at 10 a.m. on Sunday at Armory Park downtown. For more information about the Tir Conaill Academy, visit www.tirconaillacademy.org.