When March 17 shows up on the calendar, many students at Corona del Sol High School sport traditional green T-shirts and leprechaun-inspired attire in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Having the 2017 Arizona Irish Lass in their midst, however, promises to make this year’s celebration something special.
Sophie Looney, a sophomore, has been immersed in her Emerald Isle heritage ever since the day she spied Irish step dancers at the mall when she was 6. At a retail store, she stepped into some tap shoes.
“My mom kept asking me if I would be dedicated to this,” Sophie said, recalling that she went to the front of the establishment and started dancing to prove her passion.
Irish step-dancing shoes are not the sort of thing you wear to school, after all. In fact, as they enter more advanced competitions, dancers end up needing a wig and some pretty pricey costumes, too. Mom needn’t have worried: Sophie’s been dancing ever since.
The Arizona Lass, title bestowed on this 15-yearold, is an honor conferred on young women ages 13-17 who have some Irish background. Presented by the Arizona Colleen and Rose Program, it’s aimed at promoting Irish culture and community in Arizona.
She was crowned in December.
As the 2017 honoree, Sophie will assist the 2017 Arizona Colleen and Rose winners in representing the Irish community at various events around the state, including the Saturday, March 11 St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Faire sponsored by the Irish Cultural Center.
“At first I wasn’t planning to do it. I’m terrified of speaking in front of people,” Sophie said. “I wasn’t expecting to win at all, so it was a really big surprise and a great honor for me.” A good friend and mentor, Colleen Callahan Pierson, wanted her to do it so badly that Sophie agreed.
“She lent me all her dresses and put makeup on me. I’m nothing like that, so it was a big change. I wear sweats all day.”
Each of the Arizona Lass contestants must fill out an application and be interviewed. Sophie said she told the panel of judges that her role models were her parents. “My mom is the smartest person I know and my dad is such a great coach and so open,” Sophie said.
Applicants must also demonstrate social skills and graces as well as a talent. For Sophie, the Irish step dancing was key. She practices three to four days a week but is at Chandler’s Bracken School of Irish Dance five or six times per week, teaching younger students.
“I love kids a lot, so it’s fun to play with them and teach them all these things,” Sophie said. “When we’re at competitions and I see them dancing, I get that satisfaction of saying, ‘Oh, I taught them that!” Bailee Delci, an instructor at Bracken, said she is happy for Sophie’s title as Arizona Lass.
“She is so great with the kids. It makes her a better dancer, but also I know the kids love her. They look up to her,” Delci said.
Delci herself has been hooked on Irish dance since she was 7. She works at a senior living facility and said the Bracken School was due to send a troupe of Irish dancers to perform there March 3.
March is a busy month for Irish step dancers, and Sophie will be performing at Murphy’s Law, a pub in downtown Chandler, as well as several other sites.
Throughout the remainder of her term as Arizona Lass, she’ll appear at various events to promote the Irish culture—being expected, of course to wear her crown and sash and represent the local Irish community.
The Looney family is united in its love for all things Irish and recently returned from a trip to Ireland, where Sophie had the thrill of getting on stage with professional dancers. Her father, Gary, is newly commissioned to the advisory board of the Bracken School.
“Growing up, I never thought much about my Irish heritage until Sophie started dancing,” Gary said. “I have gotten so into it. My money clip is a shamrock and I carry around a coin that we got in the Bunraty Castle when we visited Ireland last time.”
“I just hope people can find their own heritage and really live up to it,” Sophie said. “It’s a great thing to get involved with. It can help you a lot in the future too like it’s helping me.”