When Kari Berile was eight, she broke her wrist. She begrudgingly agreed to Irish Dance lessons at the Sky Valley Education Center — her mother encouragingly noted the activity wouldn’t require the use of her arms.

This summer the high school senior will make a second pilgrimage to Dublin to practice in front of recruiters, who could tap her for productions like the internationally recognized Riverdance. A decade after a reluctant introduction, she is aiming to make the traditional stepdance into a career.

“I want to do it as long as my body can possibly move,” Berile said.

She said she has always been someone who sticks to her commitments. Luck was certainly part of the equation, but her commitment to learning the style and dedication to dance is what led to her making an impact on the world stage, she said.

“I have always just been that person that has to work really hard,” she said.

Berile was introduced to Irish Dance much later in life than many of her peers. Most kids start out before they turn 5, she said, but the movement came naturally and she progressed quickly.

Berile took classes for a few months at SVEC before her teacher asked if she would be interested in joining his other school. She started competing locally, then regionally, and, eventually, she was traveling internationally.

Irish step sticks out for its fast foot movements and the way dancers keep much of their upper body stiff at the same time.

There are two categories Irish solo stepdances fall within, Berile said. The difference comes down to footwear. Hard (jig) shoes have fiberglass in the toe and heel, which creates a tapping sound on contact with a surface, and soft shoes (ghillies) are laced up and only worn by women.

Berile usually competes alone, but also dances with teams. To perform at the international level she has had to adopt a rigorous workout regiment. On any given day she practices or cross trains for up to five hours. 

Berile starts out with a run in the morning, followed by homework, and then another workout or class in the afternoon. She started out attending one-hour weekly classes, then began to practice at home in her garage, and has continuously added more exercise and training to her routine.

Berile has never gone through an extended period of wanting to take time away from dance. Once she got over the initial feeling of resistance, she developed a deep affection for the activity.

“I love just how I feel while I am dancing,” she said. “I feel happy and I feel good about myself. I feel good that I have something that I can apply myself to.”

As the youngest of five siblings, she has received much encouragement from her older brothers and sisters, who each had long-term interests they pursued. They have helped teach her how to calm nerves and work through plateaus. She said her parents have also supported her decisions along the way.

“It’s nice to have a good team behind you,” she said.

Around the time she turned 13 the family moved to Bellingham, to be near her new school, in Vancouver, B.C. Since then, Berile has been attending SVEC long-distance, and now competes abroad on a nearly weekly basis.

Sometimes that means a lot of traveling alone. She said it can be hard to be away from her family for so long. When she is home she likes to cook for herself, and tries to eat balanced meals, with plenty of protein, but adds she’s “not perfect, of course.”

Traveling and her involvement with dance teams have connected her with friends who understand her life and passion.

“It is cool to be able to be with people in the same situation as you are,” she said. “Outside of the Irish dancing world, it’s hard to find others who understand it.”

Last year was the first time Berile qualified for the international and world championships in Dublin. This summer, she will return to work with instructors who have been on Riverdance, a production that became popular and has toured internationally since the 1990s.

The workshops are part of an annual recruiting event, which Berile said participants have to be invited to, and have a good chance at being noticed. She has also been working with many of the same teachers in New York for years, and has been told if she wants to make a life of stepdancing, she can.

“After the first year I went there (New York), I kind of made up my mind I want to do it,” she said.

Berile said every day she is grateful for the chance to be doing something she loves. The hours put in every week don’t feel like work because of how much she enjoys the art form.

One aspect of stepdance Berile loves is being able to connect with an expression of her family’s ancestry. She said social media has made the style more popular and increased its appeal.

Moves and techniques have been modernized, Berile said. Riverdance and Lord of the Dance have helped revive its appeal, she said.

“Even though it has evolved a lot and it has changed as the years have gone by, it still has traditional roots,” she said.