Montrose’s Irish Step Dancers Earn Distinction in Oireachtas 2016

Meagan Flynn '19, Contributing Writer

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Last month, Ciara Hernon ‘18, Emma Schiller ‘17, and alumnae Colleen McCarthy ‘16 competed against local and international dancers in the New England Regional Oireachtas (NERO) in Providence, RI. In the “Under 18” category, Emma earned 5th place, and Colleen won 4th place; both girls qualified for the World Championships in Ireland and the North American National championships in New Orleans in 2017. In the U16 age bracket, Ciara placed 44th and recalled in the top half of her age group. Because of her Open championship level, Ciara will be able to compete at Nationals. These three Montrosians dance at the Harney Pender-Keady of Irish Dance (HPK), often practicing 18 or more hours each week. Dancers work to their limit and share a passion for the vigorous sport.

Emma, who has been dancing for 14 years, said that the Oireachtas “is one of the hardest competitions since everyone is good, so anyone could take the top places at any day!” When asked about her favorite part of Irish dancing, Ciara, who has been dancing since she was 5 years old, said that “competing is her favorite part because it is so rewarding to see all of your hard work paying off…it has given me so many opportunities to travel all over the world.”

Both girls also described a crucial element to any performance: the dress. Emma said, “My brand new dress is yellow, copper, and black, and it was made by Elevation, a company in Belfast, Ireland!” Ciara added, “My dress has many colors…. black, red, blue, green, yellow, orange. My dress was custom-made by Gavin Doherty, a dressmaker in Belfast, Ireland.” In Irish dancing, dancers are spray-tanned for the lights on the stage with crystals and curly wigs.

Emma’s highest placements at major competitions include “first in my team and 25th in my solo at Worlds. For the Oireachtas, I earned first in my teams and 4th in my solos.” Ciara said, “Over the past 11 years I competed in around 25 majors, traveling to places such as: Scotland, Canada, Florida, Chicago, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and more. My highest placement was 1st place at the World Championships in 2013.” Through all their practices, the effort pays off at the major competitions during the year.

In April of 2014, I joined HPK after leaving gymnastics. I began as a beginner and rapidly earned my firsts and moved through four levels of the six levels. At my first Oireachtas, I did not place and felt discouraged, but I continued practicing over and over until the next year. Despite many injuries, I fell in love with the sport. At the 2015 Oireachtas, after much hard work, I proved myself and earned 6th place out of 42 girls in the traditional set competition in the U16 age group. I was ecstatic! In March 2016, I went to a competition in NYC and hurt my back while dancing. Two weeks later, I went to the doctor. Devastated, I found out I have two fractures in my back. After resting from dance for the past ten months, I am still injured. This year at the Oireachtas, I could not dance, but I went to cheer on my friends anyways. I missed the environment of sparkles and the beautiful beats of the shoes, and I can’t wait to go back to the tough sport with all my friends after I heal from the enduring injury.

In the Irish dancing world, the season never ends. Dancers work vigorously to perfect the footwork and traditional style of dancing. Despite the tough practices and teachers, the arduous effort shines with determination. To be successful in Irish dancing, an athlete experiences wins and losses. Practice is key when it comes to the competition. As most people know, “Practice makes perfect”.

In 1975, the first New England Regional Oireachtas was founded. There are many other majors, for example: Worlds, All Irelands, Oireachtas, Nationals, and British Nationals. The sport captivates you in a trance watching the fast movement of feet with no body movement above the hips. For more information, check out this website.