It has been an incredible seven days in which 4,500 Irish dancers representing 32 countries have battled it out in 62 competitions for 160 pieces of silverware, in front of 20 adjudicators, dancing to the music of eight musicians. And it’s almost at an end. Yes, after an action-packed week, the 41st World Irish Dancing Championships in Dublin are today drawing to a close.

While departing dancers may shed a tear as they leave new friends, the participants from the USA are returning home with an impressive haul of medals.  A particularly warm welcome home beckons for New Yorker Ann Paige Turilli who scooped the World title in the Girls Under 15 category. The 14-year-old from Pearl River is a pupil of the Inishfree School of Dance and previously tasted success last year when she won the Under 14 title.

It has been a successful week also for the Petri School of Dance in Long Island, with second place finishes for Gabriella Wood at Under 19 level and Melanie Valdes in the Under 13 category.

Not to be outdone, the guys have also proudly flown the flag for the USA, with Peter Dziak from the Illinois and Wisconsin-based Trinity School winning the Boys Under 14 title. The school also enjoyed another sweet victory when they won first place in the Girls Under 13 Figure competition.

This afternoon, eight talented dancers from the McGing School in Cincinnati, Ohio took to the stage in one of the final events, the Senior Mixed Ceili Over 16. The elegant dance team looked set to battle it out late into the evening as they secured a recall and a place in the final. Yet it has already been a stellar championships for this team. Earlier in the week, team member Drew Lovejoy finished in 2nd place in the Boys Under 16 competition while team mate Kelcey Steele came 9th in the Under 18 event.

It’s certainly true to say that Irish dancers have come a long way in recent years. And one woman who has observed the changes over the decades is adjudicator Kathleen O’Keeffe from Rochester, New York. It’s exactly 30 years ago since Kathleen danced in her first World Championships in 1981, in Dun Laoghaire in South Dublin. This week marked another milestone as she adjudicated the World Championships for the very first time.

With a mother and father from West Cork, this New Yorker was always going to find her way into Irish dance. However, Kathleen told the Irish Voice: “My parents were part of an Irish club and there was a gentleman teacher there so I started learning. It wasn’t until I started moving up the ranks that I started to hear about the World Championships. We didn’t really know about it in America at the time."

Having set up her own school of dance in Rochester and Syracuse, Kathleen witnessed first-hand the dramatic rise in popularity of Irish dance over the last two decades.

“Riverdance really contributed to  the popularity of Irish dance”, she explained: “Suddenly people who were 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation Irish were taking notice and deciding that they liked it. Irish dancing is now huge in the tri-State area. I think people love it and it has nothing to do with heritage, it’s just the beauty of it. For a long time Irish dancing was hidden away and it was something that was only done on St Patrick’s Day, but now everybody knows what it is."

Kathleen added: “It’s 30 years ago now that we had our first North American winner, Ruth Garrett from Canada. That was a big deal at the time, but now we often have Americans and Canadians winning Championships. We’re almost on even ground with Irish and English competitors."

She’s also quick to point out that standards have risen dramatically since she first attended the 11th World Championships in Dublin.

“There are things dancers are doing now that I know I wouldn’t have been able to do 30 years ago”, she laughed. “Irish dancing is very athletic now and dancers are very conditioned but it hasn’t taken away from the beauty of it."

Throughout this week of competition in Dublin, there has been much media comment about the changing fashions of Irish dance and in particular the very modern costumes, wigs and the use of fake tan.

Kathleen conceded: “I think some of the costumes have gone away from the traditional look, and that’s a pity. Some of them don’t have the beautiful Irish art of embroidery. But I think appearance is the last thing you want to consider. They all have to bring their own personality to their costumes, but what’s important is from the waist down. It doesn’t matter if you have a $3,000 costume if you can’t dance."