THE SHOW MUST GO ON
Una O'Hare woke up on a recent Sunday to a tragic scenario that no 11-year-old should have to face.
Early on the morning of Jan. 28, the Murray School of Irish Dance — where Una and her older sister Daragh have practiced their traditional Irish dancing for the past several years — was ravaged by a fire that began in the business below the studio located on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.
A fifth-grader at Lake Oswego's Hallinan Elementary School, Una says she was devastated to hear that the space where she and her sister had spent so much time perfecting their craft had been severely damaged. What is equally distressing is that the students of Murray School of Irish Dance are in the process of gearing up for their busiest season of the year, with dozens of performances leading up to and surrounding St. Patrick's Day.
Una herself is heading to Killarney, Ireland this week to compete in the "All-Ireland Championships." It's one of the largest competitions for Irish dance outside of the World Championships; Una was invited to that event, too, but can't compete because her choreographer will be one of the judges there.
"My favorite part is competing," Una says. "I meet a lot of new friends, and it's a great opportunity for the judges to tell me what I need to fix and how to fix it so I can become a better dancer.
Now, though, her dancing has taken on new meaning.
"I know this fire is a setback on my training, but on that stage in Ireland, I promise to dance my heart out and to make my school and Lake Oswego proud," Una says. "I want to inspire people that even when tragedy happens, you can still keep working. There's still good that can come out of it."
Tania O'Hare, Una's mom, says she's proud of her daughter for pushing forward, and she wants the world to know that the strength of children is sometimes incredible to behold in the face of tragedy.
That was certainly evident in a letter Una wrote to The Review last week, explaining what had happened to her studio and what she's done to support her fellow dancers.
"I donated my piggy bank money and my twin brother did it, too," she wrote, "but I feel that I need to do more. I never started a fundraiser on my own, but I learned a lot watching the moms at school auctions. I need to reach out, so here I am reaching out."
Through a GoFundMe account (gofundme.com/murrayirishdance), Una and the school's supporters hope to raise $55,000. That number represents all the equipment, costumes and other items damaged by smoke and water when the fire crept up through the walls and burst out through the bathroom on the backside of the studio.
She's even offering to help teach Lake Oswego and Lakeridge High School football teams a few Irish dance steps to help with their footwork — a technique used by Baltimore Ravens running back Alex Collins and others — as a way to garner attention for both her studio and teacher, Geraldine Murray.
"My teacher lost the work of a lifetime in a few hours, but she stood strong and made sure we felt safe, and she reassured us that we will be up and running and able to practice," Una says. "I know she is heartbroken and I want to help. It is now my turn to be strong, stand tall and do something for her."
Murray has operated the Murray School of Irish Dance for 22 years at its location on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. She's a certified instructor whose mother and grandmother on her father's side were born in Ireland. She's also a classically trained Irish musician, which adds to the prestige and authenticity of the school's instruction.
Although it's been a tough couple of weeks, Murray says, she's focusing on moving forward.
"I have fantastic families and parents in this school. They understand what we need and they're willing to support me as much as I support their kids," Murray says.
After taking stock of the damage done by the fire — which is being investigated as burglary-arson, according to Murray — parents gathered last week to figure out a temporary space for classes to continue and how to further support Murray in this difficult time.
They connected with the Haiyan International Dance Academy in Beaverton, which agreed to allow Murray's classes to take place there for the next week, and a further search found a warehouse space nearby that will serve as a temporary home for the studio while insurance and investigators sort out the situation with the fire.
But at this point, it's unclear whether the studio will be able to return to its old space.
Murray is still looking for donations of items such as marley, the vinyl flooring used for Irish dance, and roll-away mirrors to use in the temporary space. She's hopeful that the local dance community and the army of active parents by her side will figure everything out in order to keep the students practicing ahead of their busy season.
"I'm not the type of person to accept money from people, but (in this situation) I'm actually glad they did it because by the time we sort through insurance it's going to take forever, and it's unclear what is covered," Murray says. "We want to keep moving and keep a positive attitude to keep the kids happy and not dwelling on the fire itself."
Una might be the embodiment of that optimism, even as she travels to Ireland this week with a goal of proving that her small studio back in Oregon is worthy of its worldwide reputation.
"I think it's going to push me harder because I want to create a better name for our school so that people will help and donate," Una says. "We lost the studio, but we didn't lose our friendship. We are in this together."