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Ringgold senior dances to a different tune

When Ringgold High School senior Alexandrea Nietert learned tennis, terms such as ace, love and fault were added to her vocabulary, joining such terms as Reel, Ghilles and Slig Jig.

Those latter terms she was already quite familiar with, thanks to her Irish grandmother. When Nietert was 5 years old, her grandmother, the late Joan Foust, who was a member of the Pittsburgh Ceili Club, enrolled her in the Burke Conroy School of Irish Dancing in Squirrel Hill.

Fast forward 12 years and Nietert is an accomplished and competitive Irish dancer, stepping to popular national dances.

To the unknowing, the Reel involves both boys and girls, who dance in soft shoes, or ghilles, similar to ballet slippers. Switching steps, boys and girls do the infamous Irish Jig in their ghilles, while the Slig Jig is a girls-only routine. However, for the Trouble and Hornpipe jigs, hard shoes are the order of the day.

And, no, she said, this is definitely not a River Dance routine.

Thanks to her Irish background — her mother, Andrea, also is Irish — Nietert dances in Pittsburgh’s St Patrick’s Day Parade every year, at the Pittsburgh Irish Festival at the Riverplex near Sandcastle, and has performed at the Ireland Fund Dinner at Heinz Field, where she met former Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney, who was appointed by President Obama as the United States ambassador to Ireland.

In addition to local competitions in the Pittsburgh area, her dancing has also taken her to Chicago, Columbus, and St. Louis.

“I enjoy the dancing,” she said, adding that she practices three nights a week, several hours each time. “Some of the dances involve basic steps, but higher level dances are harder and it takes a while to learn them.”

Irish dance competitions include different levels, whereby dancers are required to achieve a certain goal to advance to the more difficult levels. To advance to an Open Championship, dancers must win two preliminary competitions, which Nietert accomplished in Columbus in August.

“With all the practice and competitions and events, I’ve improved a lot over the years,” Nietert said, chuckling, “and I’ve met a lot of new people through Irish dancing and I’ve made many new friends.”

Nietert took advantage of another opportunity when Ringgold formed a girls tennis team last year. Playing doubles as a junior, she moved up to the No. 3 singles spot this year and also played at either No. 1 or 2 doubles.

“Alex is a very coachable athlete,” Ringgold coach Sara Phillips said. “She is a true team player, and was willing to play singles or doubles, wherever I needed her. She is intelligent, listens to direction, moves well on the court and covers the court well.”

Several friends encouraged her to try tennis, “so I did,” Nietert said.

“Alex’s overall game has improved in these two years because she listens and applies what she learns,” Phillips said. “She is more consistent and serving much better than when she started playing. Her forehand stroke is her strength.”

When she isn’t dancing or playing tennis, Nietert, who maintains a 3.8 grade average and is a member of the National Honor Society, is involved with SADD, the Interact and Spanish clubs, and has been a member of the chorus for four years. She also throws the discus for the Ringgold track team.

Next fall, she plans to attend Slippery Rock University to major in elementary education. She already has a leg up in teaching, as she instructs students from age 4-14, teaching different steps and levels of Irish dancing.


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