Like every other dancer at the World Irish Dancing Championships in Dublin, Michigan girl Abigail Conway is this week chasing a coveted medal. But the teenager from Royal Oak only has to look back to her Irish roots to see that her family history already boasts a medal of a very different kind.
Abigail’s grandfather Brian is the holder of a Purple Heart, presented to him after he was injured in the Vietnam War.
A pupil of the Flanagan-O’Hare School of Dance in Birmingham, Abigail is immensely proud of her Irish heritage. Her great-grandmother Lily Conway emigrated to America from Rathgar in Dublin and eventually settled in New Jersey where she had three children, among them Abigail’s grandfather Brian.
Several decades on, the family story came full circle this week when the young dancer, her parents Sean and Michele and sister Alison travelled to Dublin for the World Championships. With the hand of history on their shoulders, they are even staying in the Rathgar house where Lily grew up.
Abigail’s father Sean told the Irish Voice: “Irish dancing has made real connections for us. This is her eighth time in Ireland and it’s a chance for us to meet up with our relatives”.
On a previous trip, the family travelled to Cobh to see the place from which Lily Carolan departed Ireland all those years ago.
Sean explained: “Lily’s husband died when my dad Brian was 10. Later, he was called into service for the Vietnam War. I only just discovered that because Lily was a widow her sons could have been exempt from service but she insisted that her children would do their duty”.
He added; “My dad flew medivac helicopters and he got shot through the ankle. Later on he was awarded a purple heart, the medal given to soldiers who are injured in combat. He and my mom are still in great health and they’ve seen Abigail dancing many times”.
Abigail’s mum Michele added that despite her Irish heritage, her first foray into Irish dancing was accidental.
She explained: “She was doing ballet lessons and a neighbour told us about an Irish dance class. At that time you paid by the month so we sent her to a class and afterwards she cried and said “it’s so hard mom, I can’t do it”.
Sean added; “we told her “the Conways aren’t quitters”, but what we really meant was that we’d paid for four classes so she was going to finish them! She went back the next week and decided she liked it and she’s never looked back since. Irish dancing has been great for her and watching her dance is one of our proudest moments”.
Family connections may be the reason most youngsters take their first dance steps, but amazingly New Yorker Jordane Mink has Folger’s coffee to thank for her love of dance! The 15-year-old from the Petri School of Dance in Long Island described the bizarre situation, explaining: “I saw a commercial which featured Riverdance and I decided I wanted to try it”.
Her mom Alexandra added: “The commercial was for Folger’s coffee and it showed a woman dancing in the kitchen while making coffee. Jordane was about four years old at the time and she used to stand in the kitchen when the commercial came on and she’d dance to the music!”
More than 11 years on, the teenager is now competing in her third World Championships. However she already has an impressive track record as she finished 17th last year.