Sunday was Day One of the World Irish Dancing Championships.
Fifty-seven boys from all corners of the globe quickly became acquainted in the small space backstage at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.
They danced like they’ve never danced before.
All 57 young hopefuls, between the ages of 11 and 12, want to become the world’s best Irish dancer .
But first they must complete a 40-second step on stage at the Pearlman Theatre in the center in front of hundreds of other Irish dancers and their families.
The tension mounted but the boys were taking it in their stride.
“Where are you from?” said a young boy from Ohio to another.
“From England,” came the reply.
In another corner a group of dancers from Canada went through their steps one last time.
In the opposite corner four boys from the same dancing school in Ireland chatted quietly while eyeing up the competition.
Closer to the main stage, two friends, both wearing brightly colored waistcoats, high fived each other while jigging at the same time.
It was calm but at the same time hectic.
As organizers paired the boys up in threes, they fall in line and conversations continue.
“Have you been to the worlds before?” asks Daniel Bolger from Kent.
“Yes, this is my third,” said Thomas Lavin from Long Island.
Lavin, who has been dancing since he was seven, said his parents play music at Feises all over the world.
“They got me interested,” said Lavin.
Lavin’s grandparents hail from Co. Donegal and Co. Sligo and he said he was proud of his Irish heritage.
For Lavin, the best part of the World Irish Dancing Championships is the chance to make new friends.
“It’s just great fun meeting new people and because this is my third time competing in the worlds I have met the same people over again.”
Not only does Lavin keep meeting the same young men and women from Ireland to Australia year in year out, he also has to keep competing against them but, he said, “It doesn’t bother me.”
Dancing since he was five
Seamus McMahon, from Co. Clare in Ireland, has been dancing jigs and reels since he was five.
McMahon was super excited because this is the first time he has ever danced in a World championship.
“It means a lot to me to be here,” said McMahon who was accompanied on the trip with his dad, also a champion Irish dancer.
McMahon hopes to continue dancing until he is a lot older.
As the first group of three are called on stage to perform their first hard step, nerves began to set in.
“Good luck Cormac,” shouted a voice from the line.
Cormac gave two thumbs up and glided onto the stage with confidence.
How did I do?
Forty seconds later, the first groups emerged from the stage out of breath and red-faced but generally happy with their performances.
“How did I do?” one young Irish man asked his friend.
“I didn’t get to see it all but what I did see what great,” said his smaller looking friend who was rubbing his hands together fighting off the nerves.
The competition heated up as the next three boys take to the stage. Seven judges – five from Canada, one from Australia, and one from the U.S. – made notes.
It’s not easy. There can only be one world title holder but several place medals will be given out to the best 10 or so dancers.
‘Having a great time’
Hayley Cahill from the Petri School of New York had just competed in the girls under-11s when IrishCentral caught up with her in the lobby of the Kimmel Center.
“We are having a great time,” said Hayely who was sitting with her mother Ann Marie.
Hayley, who is 10, was also proud to have her grandfather, Paddy Connell from Co. Longford and now living in New York, with her in Philadelphia supporting her on big day.
“It’s great being here with all my friends from the Petri School,” she said.
That was the kind of laid-back atmosphere at the Kimmel Center on Sunday. Yes, they’re all competing in a huge championship but the sheer buzz coming off the dancers was more about the fact that they were actually taking part in the World Irish Dancing Championships.
No Irish Need Apply? Not anymore