- Associated Press - Saturday, March 12, 2016

HANOVER, Mass. (AP) - Sandwiched between a ballet studio and a stereo speaker repair shop, the Dunleavy Boyle Connolly Academy of Irish Dance in Hanover has some serious competition when it comes to decibel output.

But every day at around 5 p.m., Kendall Woodcock and the rest of the dancers at the academy make sure their neighbors at 24 Rockland St. know who reigns supreme.

“We can hear them playing the piano,” Woodcock, 16, of Walpole, said of the South Shore Ballet Theatre, which shares a wall with the academy in the office building. “So we know that they can hear us slamming into the floor.”

Her statement was underscored by the thunder of the hard-bottomed shoes of more than a dozen dancers pounding into a wooden floor in percussive repetitive patters a room away.

Some of the students, including Woodcock, are preparing for a competition that means a bit more than the audio turf war on Rockland Street: They are tapping furiously toward the 2016 World Irish Dancing Championships in Glasgow on March 20-27.

The academy will send 11 dancers to the championships, where they will compete with more than 5,000 others from around the world, including scores from Greater Boston. The tournament draws from the most talented Irish step dancers globally - from 10-year-olds to young adults - and attracts up to 25,000 spectators over the course of the competition week.

Pembroke-based Kenny Academy, Weymouth’s Nevin Academy, Quincy-based Brady Academy, and the Keene O’Brien Academy in Braintree are among a handful of other schools south of Boston that are sending dancers to the annual event.

Though Irish step dance performances are often done in a group, the majority of the competitions at the championships are solo routines judged by a panel. Irish step dancing can be traced to the 1800s and is performed in two styles, either with soft shoes or hard-bottomed ones like those worn for tap dancing. The striking, colorful costumes associated with Irish step dancing are modern derivatives of traditional Irish styles of dresses.

For some of the Dunleavy Boyle Connolly dancers, the trip to Glasgow will be their first one abroad. For the older students, it will be a “last hurrah,” a chance to cap their dancing careers before college and other responsibilities get in the way.

For Sophia Coggeshall and Josie McClory, first-timers to the championships, the emotions are split between the excitement of traveling to another country to dance and the nerves of performing on such a large stage.

“It’s my first time overseas anywhere for dance, or just for going on vacation, so I’m really excited,” Coggeshall, a 14-year-old from Marshfield, said. “I’m really nervous because the competition here is already super hard, and I can’t even imagine it there. It has to be a hundred times harder.”

The Glasgow competition will be the first for which 10-year-old Hanover native McClory is old enough to qualify. She fell in love with Irish step dancing three years ago while dropping off a friend at the academy.

Suzanne Dunleavy McDonough, owner of the school, says she sees fewer students coming from traditional Irish families with step dancing heritage today than she used to. Most get into it now because they have a friend who attends the academy, or simply because they’ve seen a performance and want to learn it for themselves, she says.

Emma Hall, a 15-year-old from Kingston who has been dancing for more than 10 years, said she doesn’t feel pressure going to her first world championships.

“I’m nervous, but I’m not going to be that disappointed if I don’t do that well,” she said. “It’s my first time, so it’s more about the experience.”

But the stakes are higher for those who’ve had the experience of competing.

“I’m just really determined,” 17-year-old Margaret Hanley of Pembroke said. “This year I really need to bring it. We work way too hard here to not give it our all.”

The dancers at Dunleavy Boyle Connolly train year round, making all sorts of sacrifices to perform at a high level. To qualify for the world championships, each must battle through local, regional, and national competitions.

But it’s all worth it, Woodcock said.

“Making sacrifices like not hanging out with your friends every weekend, getting up early and coming to class on Saturday mornings, or staying here late Friday nights, working hard, knowing that you’re doing this to get something out of it - it’s definitely worth it,” she said.

For Hanley, the prospect of traveling the world to compete keeps her coming back.

“Traveling is awesome,” she said. “I just love it. Seeing the world before you graduate high school is definitely an up.”

Nicoletta Summa of Marblehead and Brynn Golden of Hingham have qualified for the world championships a combined 10 times. For them and other veterans like Woodcock and Hanley, the pressure melts away once they get on stage.

“At this point I know what to expect,” said Summa, who is heading to the worlds for the sixth time.

“I’m nervous side stage, and then once I get on stage I’m like, ‘OK, I’m ready for this,’ ” Woodcock added.

To help keep the younger competitors calm, Hanley tells them to keep it simple and to remember why they are there.

“You’ve worked way too hard to be this nervous and not dance your best,” Hanley said she would tell a first-timer. “You’ve spent too much time and effort; you just need to dance like you usually do. Just dance the best you can.”

She said the dancers from her academy gather for support each time one of them takes the stage.

“We’re like a family,” Hanley said. “It’s like our own little team even though we’re dancing separately. We all watch one another and cheer each other on.”


Information from: The Boston Globe, https://www.bostonglobe.com

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