It's a long way from Syracuse, New York to the World Irish Dance Championships in Dublin, but for rising star Kaitlyn Curtis it has definitely been a journey worth making.
Armed with her Cavan-born grandmother Margaret Boyle, her parents Christine and Tim and sister Hailey, Kaitlyn had a world-class support team as she took to the stage in the Girls Under-12 Championship in City West. And she made sure to give her dedicated band of cheerleaders something to celebrate when scooped a coveted medal and an eighth place finish.
A delighted Kaitlyn told the Irish Voice, “I was just hoping I would get a recall. I was just so nervous that I couldn’t concentrate when the winners were being read out. I have a rod above my bed for all my medals and sashes so I’m going to put my World Championship medal there too.”
Winning a medal was a dream come true for Kaitlyn, but it was also a moment of immense pride for her grandmother Margaret, who traveled with her for the event.
“It’s just wonderful to be here. I’m very happy for her,” said Margaret.
“I left Cootehill in Cavan in 1958, came to New York, moved to Syracuse and got married there and had five children and 10 grandchildren.”
By any standards the Curtis family’s Dublin visit has been a successful one, but it’s not over yet. The day after her win, Kaitlyn was back in action, this time as part of the Under-13 Ceili team with her fellow pupils from the Johnston School of Irish Dance.
Based in Syracuse, the team is proudly flying the flag for New York and wowed the judges with their first round dance “Trip to the Cottage.” It was enough to ensure a recall to the final of the competition on Tuesday evening.
Proud teacher Ann Johnston Sullivan described their performance as “awesome.”
“This team has been together for a long time, and they are so dedicated,” she said.
Last year, the eight girls won the Oireachtas Mid-Atlantic Region Under -13 competition, and they have also enjoyed several top 10 finishes in the nationals.
However, their success doesn’t come without a price. The girls face lengthy car journeys every week to make it to practice sessions.
Yet the determined dancers view the long hours and tough training as a joy, and this week they are celebrating the immense achievement of having reached the World Championships.
Team member Rebecca Flanagan summed up the feeling of the group when she revealed, “We are excited, nervous and proud all in one. Our stomachs are doing somersaults but it’s just so great to be here.”
One dancer who certainly isn’t letting nerves get the better of her is current World Champion Ann Paige Tirilli from Pearl River, New York.
She scooped the Under-14 title in Glasgow last year and is now back in Dublin for a shot at the Under-15 title. An enchanting performer from the Inisfree School of Dance, modest Ann insisted, “Winning the World
Championships was amazing, especially because I was seventh the year before. You can’t expect to win, you just go out and do your best every time.”
The 14-year-old also insisted that “time management” is one of her most vital skills as she manages to juggle long hours of dance classes with her studies as a freshman in high school.
Remarkably, as a child Ann almost opted out of Irish dancing as she didn’t particularly like it at first.
She revealed, “I was three when I started dancing. I had a friend who started and I decided I wanted to start too. I didn’t like it at first but then I learned how to do it and now I absolutely love it.”
Luckily for fans of perfectly performed traditional Irish dancing, Ann stuck with her art and is enthralling spectators at the World Championships this week.