The first major international Irish dancing competition of 2012 is the All-Ireland Dancing Championships (Oireachtas Rince na h’Eireann), organized by An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha.
Starting later this week, champion-level Irish dancers from around the world will travel with finely-crafted choreography and high hopes to Dublin, Ireland. While the majority of the competitors are from Ireland and the United Kingdom, North American champions often make the journey to this prestigious event. Unlike the World Irish Dancing Championships, there is no qualifying event in North America that determines who may compete at All-Irelands; rather, teachers choose students based on their individual performance records as champion Irish dancers.
Beginning Saturday, February 11th with the youngest girls and boys, there will be eight days of solo competition, four of which will also have teams vying for All-Ireland championship titles. For the solos, each age group dances on just one day; boys and girls compete separately. Dancers, in groups of two or three, depending on their age, dance either a hornpipe or treble jig (heavy shoe) and then a reel or slip jig (light shoe). A panel of five certified adjudicators scores each dancer for each round and scores are combined and tabulated to determine the top fifty percent in each age group. Those entrants are then invited to dance a third, or recall, round which is a contemporary set, danced alone. Once scored, totals are refigured and tabulators determine each recalled dancer’s placement in the group. In team events, groups based on an age range perform two ceili dances for a panel of adjudicators and placements are made based on combine scores and tabulation. At the end of each day, results are announced at an award ceremony especially for that day’s competitions, trophies are presented and celebrations ensue.
There are a total of 25 solo and 9 team competitions. While regional and national competitions permit very young dancers to enter the ‘under 8’ or ‘under 9’ category, the youngest age group for the All-Irelands is ‘9 turning 10’. At the 2011 All-Irelands, two North American children placed in the Top Five in this age group: Farran Dougherty took third place and Patrick Grant placed fifth. At the other end of the spectrum are the Senior Ladies and Senior Men, all dancers over the age of 21. In 2011, the top three Senior Ladies were North Americans: Emily Penner, Maggie Darlington and Emily Babyn. There were no North Americans in the Top Five Senior Men category.
Overall, there were 36 North Americans in the Top Five at the 2011 All-Irelands, with an astounding seven clinching the top podium spot in their age group: Nathan Dale, Jason Hays, Michaela Hinds, Drew Lovejoy, Emily Penner, Ann Paige Turilli and Melanie Valdes. These talented Irish dancers hail from all seven regions of North America: from Eastern Canada (Nicholas Andison, Emily Babyn, Lorcan Balfe, Corinne Gallibois, Patrick Grant, Michaela Hinds and Emily Penner); Mid-America (Nathan Dale, Maggie Eileen Doyle, Peter Dziak, Michael Holland, Drew Lovejoy, Brendan Mullane, Margaret Nowakowski, Michael Putman, Tyler Schwartz); Mid-Atlantic (Sean Crosby, Kevinah Dargan, Farran Dougherty, Sydney Foley-Klyczek, Owen Luebbers, Sarah Oldam, Nicholas Paulson, Ann Paige Turilli, Melanie Valdes); New England (Anna Sulger, Melissa McCarthy, Kelly McCourt), Southern United States (Jason Hays); Western Canada (Fred Nguyen); and, Western United States (Alanna Callaghan, Brian Perry-Carrera, Maggie Darlington, Olivia Griffin, Melanie Kane, Ann Maire Kenny).
Ten of the North American “Top Five” dance with Butler-Fearon-O’Connor, four from Western U.S. and six from Eastern Canada. Trinity Academy had four, Broesler had three, while Claddagh Western U.S., Mullane Healy Godley and Rince na Tiarna each had two. North American schools with a single Top Five dancer were Scoil Rince de Danaan, Dennehy, Gray Gillan Owens, Hagen, Harney, Inishfree, McGing, McTeggart, Ni Fhearraigh O’Ceallaigh, Pender-Keady, Peter Smith, and Petri. Notably, the Tri-State area (Connecticut, New Jersey and New York) had eleven Top Five placements.