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Geyserville teen has taken Irish dancing scene by storm with worldwide wins

Thirteen-year-old Irish dancer, Callan “Callie” Munselle, tends to dance just about everywhere — in the kitchen, down the hall, in her bedroom and even during recess at school. For her, dancing has always been second nature and as natural as breathing.

Her mother, Kristen, often jokes “she came out of the womb dancing,” and her father, Bret, sometimes reminds her to “walk, not dance” down the hallway.

When the Geyserville native was much younger, she and her older sister, Maddie, would repeatedly watch a “Riverdance” video her grandparents had and then try to copy their moves.

At the age of six, after watching the 2011 documentary “Jig” about the world of Irish dance and the World Irish Dancing Championships, she made up her mind she was going to the World Championships in Ireland one day.

Munselle had already been taking ballet, tap and jazz classes, along with gymnastics and ice skating, when she expressed an interest in Irish dance.

“I knew it was something I really wanted to try when I watched the videos,” she said, “Once I took my first class, I was hooked.”

Told she needed to choose between ice skating and Irish dancing, she chose dancing with no hesitation.

“I’m pretty sure my decision was based on the fact I really wanted to wear one of the sparkly solo dresses,” she laughs, “but it’s been a great journey so far and I’ve never looked back.”

Frequently flying to Los Angeles for training

Munselle was seven when she began her classes at Keenan Irish Dance School in Petaluma. Maddie, her older sister, took the first class with her, but decided she preferred soccer and basketball. One of her two younger sisters, Brynleigh, though, took lessons for almost a year.

It was not long before she worked her way up to the championship level and began to compete both nationally and internationally.

She continued to train at Keenan until August 2020 when she transitioned to the Celtic Irish Dance Academy (CIDA) in Los Angeles, founded by instructor Maeve Coughlin, a member of the “Riverdance” stage production for 10 years.

This decision required a big commitment, since it meant flying down once a month and staying in Los Angeles for several days while taking in-person classes. During the rest of the month, Munselle’s training continued via Zoom.

“In order to make this distant learning work,” said Coughlin. “I knew a lot would have to be put back on Callan to work at home. We were all very clear on the expectations and she has delivered in every way. She is a super determined, hard-working girl with a maturity about her approach to learning that makes you forget she is only 13.”

Prior to the pandemic, the Munselles built a dance room in their garage for their daughter to practice in. An actual dance floor was added for the sound feedback it provides to perfect her timing in her hard shoe dances.

“I researched how to build a floating floor and purchased all the supplies,” her mom said. “My husband did a great job putting it all together and it has really worked out so well for Callie. We did not know at the time how critical this would be since the majority of her training now takes place at home.”

Getting competition ready

Most of Munselle’s trophies are displayed in the dance room, but her favorites are kept in her bedroom, along with a wall of competition sashes she has color coordinated in rainbow order.

When she first started competing at the age of seven, she maybe did five or seven competitions each year. As she started moving up through the levels, that number increased to more like two weekends a month.

She currently participates in about 30 competitions a year, which was much easier when she was in elementary school and while she was homeschooling. Now that she will be attending in-person high school classes, Munselle may do fewer competitions in other regions and stick to ones closer to home.

Between hair, makeup and costumes, getting dressed for competitions can take up to two hours. For smaller competitions, she does her own hair and makeup, but typically has them done professionally for the major ones like Nationals and Worlds.

In the past, she has gotten her costumes from a few different designers based in Ireland. Her last two were designed by a couple in Southern California where they actually fit the dress to her and sew it together right there. Each dress lasts about a year before having to be replaced.

As for shoes, she wears both “hard shoes” that are similar to tap shoes with fiberglass on the heel and toe, as well as “soft shoes,” also called ghillies, that are similar to a soft ballet shoe, except with laces. She goes through a couple pairs each year.

Making a splash in Belfast, beyond

The goal Munselle set for herself so many years ago of going to the World Championships in Ireland was finally realized when she qualified for the 2020 event. It ended up being postponed until this past April, but it turned out to be well worth the wait.

In Belfast, her long-held dream came true in an even bigger way than she could have imagined. She became the only one in her age group from the Western United States to make it to the final round, placing 29th out of the top 65 competitors in the entire world.

On July 4, she competed in the North American Irish Dance Championships in Montreal, placing seventh in the under 14 age group and snagging a World Championship qualifying spot.

“In the past year, I also placed fifth at the 2021 U.S. Nationals in Phoenix, second at the Western Region Oireachtas, also in Phoenix, and won the Academy Championships in Columbus, Ohio,” she said. “I have also competed in South Carolina, Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, Colorado, Minneapolis and several competitions within California.”

Munselle will do independent studies at school when she competes in upcoming international competitions, including All Scotlands in Glasgow in October, All Irelands in Killarney next February, and the 2023 World Championships in Montreal next April.

She is especially excited to return to Ireland, calling it “the most fun place I have ever visited,” but she is also excited for two upcoming opportunities to showcase her talents closer to home.

Maintaining solid roots in Sonoma County

The Michael Dillon School of Irish Dance is hosting “Feis in the Vines,” an Irish dancing competition from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 20-21 at Poppy Bank Epicenter in Santa Rosa. Admission is free and the public is welcome.

Thanksgiving weekend, on Nov. 25, she is slated to be a guest artist in the Kerry Dance Troupe’s production of “An Irish Christmas” at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park.

August is going to be a very busy month for Munselle. After two years of homeschooling, she will enter high school and begin attending in-person classes. This will necessitate rearranging her routine to include practice sessions before and after school, as well as on weekends.

She will also be installed as president of the Warm Springs 4-H in August. Little sister Kassidy is still too young, but the three older Munselle sisters raise both sheep and pigs and compete in the Healdsburg Future Farmers Country Fair each year.

The Munselle family, owners of Munselle Vineyards in Geyserville, have farmed in the Alexander Valley for more than 130 years. Bret Munselle is fifth generation and was recently named Viticulturist of the Year by the Sonoma County Winegrowers.

After college, Munselle plans to join the family business of growing grapes and making wine, but first she would really like to tour with an Irish dance company.

“I love where we live and what we do, but right now, Irish dance is a big part of my life and I still have many more goals to accomplish before finally settling down.”

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