Local Irish step dancers qualify for international competition

11/03/2016 7:00 AM |

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You might want to say the luck of the Irish was with five students at Mattituck’s My Pulse My Passion dance studio earlier this month. But it was really just skill.

The girls — Katie O’Connor, 11, of Moriches; Naomi Cichanowicz, 12, of Peconic; Maeve Bailey, 9, of Jamesport; Victoria Alesi, 18, of Manorville; and Hailey Brown, 11, of Manorville — all qualified to dance in Sussex, England, next year as part of an Irish step dance competition hosted by the Celtic Association of Irish Dance.

“It was overwhelming,” said dance instructor Kyleen Vernon of having nearly half her students qualify for the international competition in November 2017.

“I started to cry immediately, because I brought them hoping they’d qualify but I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I didn’t know whether this would even be something we could get done our first time doing it.”

The girls, who began entering competitions last fall, performed at an Irish step dance competition in New Jersey in October. Each of the five who qualified received a cumulative score of 150 points on three dances, which were chosen based on the level the girls competed in — beginner, intermediate, novice and champion.

Naomi said she danced at the intermediate level and had to perform three different reels, or jigs.

“It’s fun because no one’s yelling at each other,” Katie said of the relaxed, friendly atmosphere. “It’s a nice competition.”

Each dance is scored on a 100-point system, Ms. Vernon said. She explained that judges often “scrutinize a lot,” making it much more difficult than it may appear to achieve a score of 50 on each dance, which is essentially what it takes to qualify.

Ms. Vernon believes the competition abroad will be structured similarly to the one in New Jersey, where each girl will again have to perform three dances.

Typically in a competition, dancers can choose from six to eight different styles. This choice allows them to tailor their performances to their strengths, she said. However, the national qualifying competition this month and the international one in England only have three options, therefore each performer is required to do all three styles.

At a lesson last Monday, the 11 girls in the class, who range in age from nine to 13 — with the exception of Ms. Alesi, who teaches the class alongside Ms. Vernon — excitedly shared their hopes for their time abroad.

“I’m excited to see all the different dresses,” Naomi said. “We wear these fancy dresses and it’s cool to see because each dress, or most of them, are designed for a special dancer, so it’s cool to see different colors to show every dancer’s personality.”

“I’m excited to spend time with my buddies and teacher and learn to be better at what we do,” Maeve said.

For the six students who didn’t qualify at the October competition, the chances of competing in an international level are not over. Instead, in August 2017, they are slated to perform at a competition in Pennsylvania.

As in the competition in New Jersey, girls who receive a cumulative score of 150 in the Pennsylvania competition will be able to compete in England with their friends next year.

“I said to the girls, ‘If you qualify, what an accomplishment that is just to qualify, how cool would that be!’ ” Ms. Vernon said. “I didn’t think anyone would go. Now I’m like ‘OK, I guess we’re going!’ ”

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