Parents, competitors, fans, and spectators were all having a great time in Orlando, Florida as I caught up with some of the competitors fresh off the stage at this year’s award ceremony.
Joy and Jolie Preece were first up. Jolie had just finished 24th in the Under 10s B group. There were 78 competitors in the group, so Jolie in was “pretty pleased” with her final ranking, as she said. Since last year’s Oireachtas meet Jolie said that she’d been practicing three to four times a week, and trained for three hours a night in the run up to the Orlando competition. The family travelled from Massachusetts, North of Boston so that Jolie could compete in her first nationals after having qualified for the event through the regionals, which she didn’t expect to get through. Despite what mother Jolie called the family’s low expectations, they were pleasantly surprised that Joy did “unbelievably well” at the event. Jolie hopes to continue the hobby for a few years but needs a bit of respite at the moment!
Shane Heffernan, also from Massachussetts, was another three to four day a week trainer. He came sixteenth in this year’s nationals, competing in the under 20 category. He said that he competes and trains whenever he can find the time off from work. The dancer - who is going to be a junior at UMass Amherst next year, said that he was “delighted” with his result. He’s been dancing for 13 years and has been training for this event since last April. Both Shane’s parents are Irish: his dad from Dublin and mum from Tyrone.
Caroline Robinson and Courtney O’Brien were next, readying for tomorrow’s competition in the over 20 ladies competition. They take class three times a week, and “genuinely love” Irish dancing. Caroline’s family is from Ireland while Courtney’s great-grandparents come from the Emerald Isle. They’re “excited and nervous” but feel like they’re “not even at a competition”. “This year is very zen,” explains Courtney.
Emma Deutsch is fresh off competing in the Under 10 competition and has finished fifth, while her friend Bridget just finished third. They’ve also been readying for an insanely long amount of time. Emma’s been getting ready since March of this year, and puts in a stellar three hours a day and fits in time for running and swimming too, while Bridget has been getting ready for six. Emma proudly says “no” when asked if she has any Irish heritage! Bridget started dancing aged just six, like most of the dancers at the competition, and also practices for at least two hours a day. Bridget likes the music most about Irish dancing, as does Emma. Emma’s mother, Stephanie, says that Irish dancing is “a lot of hard work and driving and family sacrifice, but it teaches them discipline and how hard work pays off and goods sportsmanship, so there’s a lot of good lessons there. Look how they’re hugging,” she adds.
Katie Ryan, from Long Island, dances at the Higgins School of Irish Dancing. She’s just finished third in the Under 15 A category. She’s been at “the dancing” for “about nine years” and like most people she “practices every day, especially around major competitions”. She’s a seasoned competition veteran, having just competed in the Mid Atlantic Oireachtas (finishing fourth) and coming fifth in the Great Britain tournament. She came second in last year’s competition.
Courtney Arena was in the Girls Under 15 B and finished in fourth place, making the podium. She’s been dancing for 10 years; passers-by interrupt to congratulate her. Like many dancers she’s fit right now only for bed. She finished tenth in the Glasgow World’s.
Erin Fallon was just in the men’s 20 and over competition. He’s finished fifth and seems happy. He’s from Cleveland originally but goes to school in Boston College. He’s a quarter Irish, like many here, and has been dancing Irish dancing for 16 years, making him one of the most seasoned dancers I’ve met so far.
Etain Mulvanagh from Belfast has just landed the second place prize in the Under 15 B group. She’s “pretty much delighted” with the result and has been training hard for months. She says that there aren’t many other Northern Irish, she was the only overseas girl in her category; there were 120 competing. She’s been dancing since she was three, which seems a strong precursor to success. Her pre competition regime involved two and a half hours of practice a day, which begins to seem pretty standard.
The competition continues tomorrow with day two.