A young Co. Kerry boy has his bags packed, his steps rehearsed and his Irish dancing costume spick and span.
Sean Hanafin, 12, from Tralee, County Kerry is bursting with excitement as he prepares for the biggest Irish dancing competition of his entire life.
Sean, who has been dancing since he was four years old, is traveling to Philadelphia this weekend to participate in the 2009 World Irish Dancing Championships where he hopes to bring a gold medal back to Kerry.
He will compete in the boy’s under-13 competition at the Perelman Theatre in Philadelphia on Sunday, April 5 at 1.30 pm.
Dancing is part of Sean’s genetic makeup. His mother Marie and his grandmother Mary O’Carroll have been one-two-threeing it since they were youngsters.
“It was my mom who got me into Irish dancing because she was an Irish dancer herself and I loved it the minute I started,” said Sean.
“My mom danced in feisanna (Irish dance competitions) when she was younger and my nana used to teach Irish dancing,” he said proudly.
And dancing has become a very special part of Sean’s youth. Not only has he made a lot of good friends with the same passion for the slip jigs and the horn pipes, Sean has also traveled the globe participating in Irish dancing competitions.
“I have traveled to places that I would never have got to see if I was not Irish dancing,” he said. “I danced in Taiwan in 2005 and 2006, in Venezuela in 2006, Manchester 2007 and I have traveled extensively throughout Ireland competing.”
However, Sean said the most important part of it all for him is having the ability to celebrate his Irish heritage through dance.
“For me it’s really important and nice to be able to preserve one of Ireland's beautiful traditions,” said the Kerry boy.
Sean, who won the Munster Championship under-seven category in 2003, said he is very excited about traveling to the U.S. this weekend.
“I can't wait to visit Philadelphia as I've heard so many great things about it,” he said.
Apart from the competitive side of the trip, Sean said he enjoys making new friends with dancers from around the globe and experiencing how Irish dance brings them all together.
This competition is extra special for Sean as he will travel to Philadelphia with his mom, his brother David, 16, and his nana Mary (his father Tom has to work). His cousins from around the U.S. will also visit Philadelphia to see Sean compete.
Dancing takes up a large chunk of Sean’s free time – he dances most evenings after school and at the weekends, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I love every minute of it,” he said happily.
Apart from the direct dance rehearsals, Sean said he also has to spend time on increasing his fitness levels through skipping and running.
To prepare for big competitions like the worlds, Sean spends extra time dancing and rehearsing his steps leading up to the events. It was during rehearsal this past weekend that Sean’s dreams of winning a world competition in the U.S. nearly came to an end.
“I fell and hurt my foot during rehearsals on Saturday. When I went to the hospital they told me that I had broken my foot,” he said.
Sean was heartbroken, but as the weekend passed and the pain seemed to ease, a trip back to the hospital on Monday confirmed that it was only a tear and doctors gave him the go ahead to dance his heart out this coming weekend.
Sean, who has danced both with pumps and hard shoes, said he prefers the heavier dancing because it’s more challenging, and he likes a good challenge.
When not watching his brother David play football at weekends, Sean attends Irish dance competitions in the Munster area.
Looking past Philadelphia, Sean said he is in no rush to give up Irish dancing. “I won’t be giving it up for a long time because I am enjoying myself too much,” he said.
Sean’s dream would be to someday have a full time career in Irish dancing, maybe even tour with one of the big dance productions like Riverdance or Lord of the Dance. In the mean time Sean hopes to meet Irish dance king Michael Flatley. “I just love Michael Flatley. He is my idol,” Sean said.