MOSCOW — Under a cloudy, but temporarily dry sky, Hope Belschner, 19, took to a chilly outdoor stage with her Irish dance troupe Saturday at the Latah County Fair in Moscow.
The performance was among just a handful for her in a year where public gatherings have been limited by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Belschner, an instructor and choreographer for the group from Rince Na Gra School of Irish Dance in Moscow.
The Irish dancers were among hundreds of people at the Latah County Fair on Saturday, which featured 4-H exhibits, food vendors, commercial booths and carnival rides. It resumes today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Belschner was among those happy to be involved in face-to-face activities after the fair took a hiatus last year.
She said a give-and-take happens during a live show that’s impossible to replicate in other environments like practices, where they spend hours learning the intricate steps punctuated by high jumps that are the backbone of the style of dance.
For the dancers, Belschner said, it’s a chance to share a talent they view as a gift from God. In return, they receive appreciation from the crowd.
“A lot of our energy comes from the audience, whether it’s clapping or hooting and hollering,” said Kayla Erb, 17, who, like Belschner, is an instructor and choreographer for the school whose name means dance for love in Gaelic.
“We’ve had people join our studio because they saw us at the fair,” Erb said.
The joy that Belschner finds in Irish dance goes back more than a decade. She was 3 when her family learned from members of their church about a studio that offered lessons.
At the time, they were living in Germany, where her father was stationed with the U.S. Air Force.
“I really liked the fast-paced nature (of it),” Belschner said. “It was fun to find things that were feminine and beautiful, but allowed you to be strong.”
After her father retired from the military, the family moved to Moscow, which had a studio where she could continue.
Her mother, Sandy Belschner, later took over the studio, but the elder Belschner said her role is limited to the business end. Another daughter, Bekah Belschner, 16, is an instructor too.
“I just facilitate their great talent,” Sandy Belschner said. “It’s ridiculous how proud I am of them.”
The Belschners weren’t the only ones appreciating that the fair was back.
University of Idaho student Erin Geslani sat at a table eating Dirty Fries sold by Country Snack Shack.
The dish features a brick of seasoned curly French Fries the size of a small loaf of bread and pulled pork in Country Snack Shack’s own barbecue sauce.
“(They’re) very good,” Geslani said, “very salty, cheesy and sweet at the same time. ... It’s a once a year treat.”
She said she had them two years ago and was disappointed to miss them in 2020.
The resumption of the Latah County Fair was also a welcome turn of events for Bob Regalia, the owner of Country Snack Shack, which is based in Sandpoint and will be at the Nez Perce County Fair this week.
Last year, business practically vanished at the beginning of the pandemic, he said.
Large-scale events were canceled as well as the numerous smaller private parties that Country Snack Shack caters, Regalia said.
He built barbecues and sold equipment to get by and now is taking multiple precautions for the safety of his employees and the hundreds of customers they serve each week.
Most of his employees, for example, are vaccinated, and he requires those who aren’t to wear facemasks, but generally everyone wears facemasks regardless of their vaccination status, Regalia said.
Anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 isn’t allowed to return to work until they’ve had a negative test, and he’s switched to packaged condiments instead of the bulk variety in pump bottles even though it’s significantly more expensive, he said.
Even though it can be difficult keeping up with the ever-changing protocols around COVID-19, business is going well, Regalia said.
“We love it,” he said. “It’s nice to be back out.”
Not far from the food court, dozens of people were taking a spin on carnival rides. Miley Larson, 13, of Moscow, raced from one ride to another with a group of friends, who frequently paused to take pictures.
“It’s the best part when you get to hear your friends scream like little children,” Miley said.
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