#ChangeforCara honors Irish dancer lost in Florida shooting

#ChangeforCara honors Irish dancer lost in Florida shooting

Students and staff from Tir Na Nog Irish Dance, in Cumberland, wore purple for an entire week in honor of a fellow dancer who died in the Florida school shooting. In front, from left, are Grace Bourassa, Tessa Keenan and Piper LaBarre. Middle row, from left, are Kathryn Grupp, Trinity Harrison, Marina McKeating, and Adi Maltais. Back row, from left, are Sophie Menoche, instructor Erika Damiani, and Hailey Joyce. All 18 of Damiani’s classes wore purple in honor of the Florida dancer, Cara. (Breeze photo by Diandra Margraf)

CUMBERLAND – The upbeat sound of Irish dance music filled the air of Cumberland’s Blackstone River Theatre, complementing the bright purple clothing of Erika Damiani’s students at Tir Na Nog Irish Dance.

Purple is not the color of the dancers’ typical performance attire. The classes, with students in grades 8-12, have adopted the royal hue to pay tribute to one fallen fellow dancer.

In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., on Valentine’s Day, Damiani, 29, said she felt helpless. And when she learned one victim, Cara Loughran, was an Irish dancer herself, she felt an even stronger urge to act.

Damiani brought the idea of a tribute to her students, who agreed to wear Loughran’s favorite color for one week to raise awareness surrounding violence in schools. Through social media, their message has spread across the world, and it started with the hashtag #ChangeforCara.

Damiani first wrote to Loughran’s teacher at Florida’s Drake School for Irish Dance. The more she thought about the promise of those 17 students lost – and about Cara who can no longer dance – Damiani thought, “Let’s see how far this can go.”

She reached out to Irish Dance Magazine, which shared her Facebook post. More shares pushed the message across the United States, then all the way to Ireland and Scotland.

Damiani said she’s received positive feedback on the Change for Cara tribute.

“We hope that a lot will come from this, and as much as it’s a great tribute, we hope we never have to do it again,” she said.

Three senior Tir Na Nog dancers, Piper LaBarre, Kathryn Grupp and Hailey Joyce, expressed their own emotions after the shooting. For these local high schoolers, shock edged into sadness and empathy for children they’d never met.

The three dancers said it wasn’t until members of this local “dance family” met that true conversation sparked a plan.

“We all sat down and talked about it for a good 30, 45 minutes,” LaBarre said. “We all see this as a safe space.”

Tir Na Nog itself translates from Gaelic as “The Land of Eternal Youth and Happiness.” When Damiani, an award-winning dancer, opened the school in 2012, she envisioned a non-competitive environment where students could have fun as they explored the athletic art form of traditional Irish dance.

The teacher credits the resolve of the dance community for sharing the hopeful message.

“Everyone seems to have the same mind frame,” she said. “I think everybody wants to bring awareness not only to Cara, but to the issue her life is gone due to the shooting at a school – and what can we do to prevent this … so we never have to experience the loss of one of our own students.”

Damiani said the philosophy motivating Tir Na Nog lends hope that her students leave her classroom as better dancers and better human beings. When a child is afraid of the dark, she said, they get a nightlight, but violence is a much larger issue needing to be addressed.

“We need to protect them in school,” Damiani said. “We need to figure out a way to keep our kids safe. I tell my kids all the time you need to speak up for yourselves, speak up for your friends; be independent and not always go with the tide – to do what’s right even if it’s not the popular thing.”

And she said her students are listening, too.

“When we say Tir Na Nog is a family, we really mean it,” Joyce said. “It’s just amazing to see it all unravel. …We hope it keeps spreading and people become aware. Our hashtag is #ChangeforCara, and we hope we really do bring change because there does need to be a change.”

With momentum spreading, Grupp noted the tribute has also played a part in thawing the competitive ethos of Irish dance as the community rallies for change.

“We’re trying to spread light and love and happiness – that’s what Tir Na Nog is about,” Joyce said.

Damiani expressed how proud she is to see the survivors in Parkland standing with a clear and strong voice, too – as one community.

“I am inspired by them,” she added. “I also feel like breaking the rules, walking out of school. … They’re doing it for the lives of the friends they’ve lost. I think they need to know there are many, many people who are behind them and applaud them, and are inspired by their ability to push forward and fight for what’s right.”


Nice gesture from children to support the family of Cara Loughran. I have a niece who is a member of the Irish Dance Club in Parkland,Fl.

I know she and others in the dance group talked with councilors about what happened. I know something is being sewn into her costume when she goes to Scotland later this year. Another of the girls was also injured.

Children going to school should not have to worry about safety.

This article describes exactly what is happening in our schools today. An activist teacher "suggests" to her impressionable students, that they act upon her political beliefs, and therefore inadvertently become pawns in a political agenda that does not belong in our schools. What student is going to stand-up and say, "no, I don't want to go along with this"? None. They are trained if they disobey a teacher, that they will be punished. So for the media to present this as anything but an exploitation of children for political gain, is offensive.

The student walk-out today is no different. Media, politicians, and political activist groups are all exploiting students, in order to get attention to their partisan cause. The majority of students attending are just doing it as an excuse to get out of class. Some are participating out of fear, because they don't want to be seen as insensitive to the FL students. Michael Bloomberg's Everytown for Gun Safety group is behind most of the more public displays you'll see on TV. They are not even trying to hide it - they have a website to promote the event. They failed to convince Americans to join there cause based on it's merits, so now they choose to exploit our children instead.