JCU Irish dancer on way to World Championships

At the age of six, freshman Christine Smyth took up Irish dance in memory of her Irish father who died when she was only two. Now at age 19, she has progressed to qualifying for the Irish dancing World Championships in Dublin, Ireland.

Smyth has been dancing with the Irish Dancing Company since the company came from England to America in 2010. They have locations in Cleveland and Columbus and Smyth travels between both. She practices five to six days a week at the studio, but practices everyday at her home.

A dancer does not have to audition to get into the dance company, but once in the studio, a dancer is placed in a class that suits their age and their level of dance expertise. Smyth explained that it is one of the top schools in America.

Her teachers are Byron Tuttle, Edward Searle and Jackie O’Leary-Fanning. In addition to being teachers, they are also judges for dance competitions that can range from local to world.

At the studio, Smyth dances for two hours straight and does cross-training and cardio conditioning. “You must have high endurance because the dances are long,” Smyth said.

In addition to practicing at the studio, Smyth has a personal trainer. With him she practices jumping and does a lot of leg work. She combines her training in dance and her cross-training to perform her routines. “If you don’t make everything look athletic, it doesn’t come off as a performance,” Smyth said.

While training full-time, Smyth was also a full-time student. Though this semester, she is now a part-time student to allow for as much training as possible for the World Championship. She has participated in the World Championships for five years starting in 2013 and has attended every consecutive year since. She has travelled to Boston, London, Montreal, Glasgow and now Dublin.

Last year she earned the ninth place spot in the World Championship. She then had the title of, “World Medal Holder Position.” She won the Mid-American Oireachtas Regional Championship in the Chicago area in November of 2016, which qualified her to go again to the World Championship.

To go to the Worlds, a dancer must be ranked in the top one percent at their national or regional competition. Smyth says, “The process is pretty fair. Everyone comes to the Worlds with a clean state.”

The Worlds have different age groups and a World Champion is named in each of the groups. Ages range from 11 to younger through senior ladies which can be any age, though most dancers retire before their late 20s because of the toll it takes on the body.

Smyth is in the “ladies under 20” category this year. The competition is split into three rounds. The first-round is called the hard-shoe round, meaning the dancer wears just that, a hard-shoe. They are judged on beats and rhythm as well as their concentration on timing and athleticism. Some examples of these hard-shoe dances are treble jigs or hornpipes. These are heavy jigs that are performed to different time signatures.

The second round is a soft-shoe round that is done in a ballet slipper. In this dance, judges look for clean leg lines, foot placement and carriage. After the second round, the dancers wait for recalls. This process is similar to hearing about a callback in acting.

The top one-third of the competition will be asked to come back for the third and final round. “They read the [dancer] numbers one-by-one and your heart is in your throat,” said Smyth.

If called back, the final round is called the set-dance. This is a hard-shoe dance that showcases the dancer’s abilities. This is the time for a dancer to use any trick they have. “That’s your moment,” Smyth said.

The final results begin with the World Champion in first place within each age group. Then the next 15 to 20 qualifying dancers receive the World medal holder position. Any competitor from the over 100 that were recalled after that is called a World recall dancer. Last year, there were 5,000 competitors across all of the age groups.

Smyth said that in the future she would like to be an Irish dance teacher for the company for which she dances. She is working on her TCRG, which is an Irish dance teaching credit. There is a rigorous test any dancer must pass in order to become a teacher. Smyth would also enjoy being a part of a professional travel show such as River Dance.

Right now, she is focusing on improving her placements at worlds. “It’s not about the results,” Smyth says. “I love to do it, what I get after is a bonus.”

Video Clip of Smyth dancing:

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