LFHS Alumna's Passion for Irish Dance Spurs Popular School
By Rebecca Foster-Goodman
When Lake Bluff native Veronica Lilja Brugioni was three years old, her mother and grandmother took her to see a live performance of Riverdance starring Michael Flatley. Hoping she would enjoy the show and perhaps gain an appreciation of her Irish heritage, her family could never have imagined that this show would set Brugioni on a lifelong path of Irish dance.
Veronica Lilja Brugioni, owner of the O’Hare School of Irish Dance in Lake Bluff, gets together with Novice dancers Ayden Thomas, Taitum Williams, Jane Westerman, Sophia Booma, and Mila Jorgensen.
“Riverdance was the most amazing thing I had ever seen,” says the Lake Forest High School graduate. “The music, the dancing, the costumes. I was hooked.”
Soon after the show, she began dancing for an Irish dance school in Libertyville and going to competitions. And winning. A lot. After a few years of accumulating trophies, Brugioni, with her mom Kelly, went to visit the Des Plaines studio of two-time Irish World Champion Tim O’Hare.
“Tim and I had an instant connection,” Brugioni remembers.
She began traveling to study with O’Hare and saw immediate results – winning two regional championships, placing third at nationals and placing in two of her eight visits to the World Irish Dancing Championships.
At 14, she asked O’Hare if she could start teaching classes for O’Hare at the Lake Bluff Park District. He agreed. Brugioni started that first year with four students. “By the time I graduated from high school, I had about 30 kids,” she says. “When I went away to college, I really missed my kids and teaching. Tim had to step up and teach my classes once a week. It was then that I realized that I wanted to leave college and come back to teaching full-time.”
After one year at Purdue University, Brugioni returned to her students. She also traveled to Limerick, Ireland to attain her Teagascóir Choimisiúin le Rinci Gaelach (TCRG), where she passed the exam required of anyone wanting to open and operate an Irish dance studio. She then began offering additional classes at Lake Forest Parks and Recreation and the Libertyville Sports Complex. Soon her classes were full at all three locations. Brugioni thought it was the perfect time to launch her own studio. In 2019, she opened the O’Hare School of Irish Dance in Lake Bluff.
But the opening would be bittersweet. O’Hare was diagnosed with stomach cancer in September 2019 and died that November. “It was a blessing that Tim was able to come and see the studio open,” Brugioni says. “He even came to do a couple of workshops. I was devastated when we lost him, but so thankful that he was able to see the studio up and running.”
Brugioni has over 70 students ranging in age from 3 to 18. March is the busiest month, as her dancers will be performing all around the area for St Patrick’s Day, visiting nursing homes residents and dancing at local pubs such as Chief’s in Lake Forest. For the first time since the pandemic began, they held their annual showcase on March 6 at Lake Forest Academy in front of 350 guests. Brugioni attended just five days after the birth of her son Corey. “My students have waited two years for this opportunity,” she says. “There was no way I was going to miss it.”
For information on the O’Hare School of Irish Dance and a list of St. Patrick’s Day performances, please visit ohareirishdance.com.