SACO, Maine — When the World Irish Dancing Championships are held in Boston this month, it represents the second time the prestigious event takes place in North America. But unlike many of the participants — who hail from as far away as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and, of course, Ireland — the trip won’t be too long for Elizabeth Eddy.
Eddy, 19, is a Saco native and a freshman medical biology student at the University of New England.
In Irish step dancing, which gained more mainstream notoriety through the popular Riverdance theatrical show and the Michael Flatley musical “Lord of the Dance,” participants largely keep their upper bodies rigid while performing quick and precise footwork.
High-level competitors in the art often wear ornate costumes, and females can be seen wearing signature curled wigs to top dancing events.
The World Irish Dancing Championships are scheduled to take place for eight days starting on Sunday at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, with Eddy to head down for her part in the competition on March 28, according to a University of New England announcement.
In an email exchange with the BDN, Eddy explained how she became so accomplished in the art of Irish step dancing, how she manages to compete at a high level while keeping up on her studies, and what she plans to do after college.
Question: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Answer: I’ve just turned 19 in January. I am originally from Portland … but have lived in Saco for most of my life. I have one sister who is currently a junior at [Thornton Academy] who loves choral music and piano. My dad is originally from Montreal, Quebec, and my mom is originally from the Sebago Lake Region area. I am a freshman at UNE majoring in medical biology. My rigorous academic studies combined with my dancing require tremendous time management, but I am really enjoying UNE and I love what I am learning.
Q: How long have you been Irish dancing?
A: I have been dancing since the age of 5 years old and began training in Irish dance and more competitively at the age of 9. I now dance with the elite Murray Irish Dance Academy in Exeter, N.H., where I train about 10-12 hours per week in addition to the 8-12 hours that I train at home. I work on technique, stamina and presentation, as well as strength building. I love the Irish music, the challenge of the steps, and the many friendships I’ve made with those who love the dance as much as I do. We are constantly learning and challenging ourselves. It’s also a great deal of fun and very good exercise.
Q: What will your participation in the world championships be like, and how did you qualify to compete at that level?
A: I will dance in the [under-19] age group, performing a hornpipe routine as well as a reel routine. If I am lucky enough to obtain a recall, I will perform my individual “set” dance. Steps are unique amongst the dancers and play towards the strength of the dancers. This will be my second trip to the Worlds, but the first time that I have competed in a “solo” capacity.
It is extremely rewarding to me to have placed high enough this year at my regional competition to have qualified for a solo world event. I placed 5th in the under-18 solo championships at the 2012 New England Oireachtas held in Providence, R.I., in November, qualifying for the World Championships. I have trained and continue to train very hard in this type of dance. I was also very lucky, as my age group has a lot of talent in it. I am the only Maine female in [my] age category to qualify for the 2013 Worlds. The World Irish Dancing Championship is the largest and most prestigious Feis in the world, attracting competitors from as far away as Ireland, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Dancers compete in age-grouped solo competitions, from age 11 to the 21-plus senior level.
Q: Will you continue pursuing Irish dancing in the future?
A: I hope to keep dancing throughout my college career, however, right now I’m just focused on the upcoming Worlds event.
Q: What do you wish more people knew about Irish dancing?
A: I would love for people to know that Irish Step Dancing is an art form and a dedicated sport that combines the history of the Irish people along with the beauty of the dance. It also takes a lot of strength and stamina to perform the routines. I encourage you to see a show if one comes to your area.
Q: What are your post-college plans?
A: After my four years at UNE, I plan to continue my education and I am exploring the areas of cardiology and radiology.