When the winning Senior Ladies Ceile team arrived onstage to accept their medals as World Irish Dance Champions, one of their members appeared to be hyperventilating.
I was standing at the stage a few feet away from the team from the Smith-Houlihan School in Boston, and I began to get worried.
The girl, who was kneeling as pictures were taken, and who was wearing a blonde wig, kept fanning air with her hand in front of her mouth.
Even though I was only a few feet away from her, I couldn’t hear what she was saying to herself, as the screams of the crowd around easily drowned her out.
But I am pretty sure she was mouthing, “Oh My God! Oh My God! Oh My God!”
And when the team from the Smith-Houlihan School stepped offstage after receiving their awards and talked to IrishCentral.com, they were no less composed. They were still in total shock at being made the new World Champions at ladies’ ceile dancing.
“I’m speechless!” said Cara Leonard. “We’d been practicing for this since September.”
Did the team expect to win?
“Absolutely not,” was the reply. “We were so dysfunctional before,” explained Sarah Kelly. “I even sprained my ankle. But then we became a team.”
“And I tripped over my own two feet in the first round. This is the most amazing experience,” said teammate Jenna Ragusa. (When asked her to spell her last time, Jenna’s teammates helped out, chanting “U.S.A.! U.SA.! )
The winners of the Senior Mixed Ceile event, who followed the ladies’ ceile winners, were just as ecstatic onstage, although thankfully none of them appeared to need medical assistance.
But when IrishCentral.com caught up afterward with the Mona Ni Rodaigh School in Dundalk, County Louth, they were an altogether more subdued bunch than the Americans that preceded them.
After walking offstage with their medals and trophy, they were asked by IrishCentral.com, “How does it feel to be a World Champion Irish dancer?”
Everyone seemed to look to everyone else for an answer, as if the presence of a reporter made them feel nervous.
After a moment or two of embarrassed silence, James Greenan took the initiative.
“It feels brilliant,” he said. His breathing was perfectly under control.
World Championships are nothing new for the Dundalk school, they explained: This is the ceile’s group’s fourth World Championships in a row. “But it’s still every bit as exciting as the first time,” said Greenan.
One of their teachers, Dearbhla Lennon, was considerably less camera shy – and little wonder. The stunning blonde works as a reporter for a TV show on Irish television called “The Afternoon Show,” and is a rising star on Irish TV.
With her mother, the other teacher in her dancing school, the two enjoyed phenomenal success at this year's World Championship. They brought 49 competitors over with them – and all of them are going home with a medal.
Lennon, 30, has been coming to World Irish Dancing Championships for many years, both as a competitor and as a teacher.
She was a principal dancer with "Riverdance" for a number of years, which she finished in 2005, and has also toured with "Lord of the Dance." In May, she starts a TV show herself on the Irish-language channel TG4.
Despite working five days a week as a reporter in Dublin, she still made the 80-minute commute from Dublin to Dundalk three times a week for dance practice.
“This is amazing,” she said, reflecting on her team's win. “In all my time competing, I’ve never achieved this.”
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