Irish dancers from Ross Township school battling in World Championships

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A group of dancers are jumping with joy at the opportunity to compete in this year's World Irish Dancing Championships.

Six students from Bell School of Irish Dance in Ross Township will travel to Boston from March 24 to 31 to compete against the best of the best in Irish dance.

“We're not that old of a school, so to have kids at this level and consistently at this level is exciting,” said Julia Bell of Marshall Township, owner and teacher at the Bell School of Irish Dance.

The school, which opened in September 1999 in rented studio space and moved to 7910 Perry Highway one year later, has sent at least one student to the Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne, or the World Irish Dancing Championships, since 2001.

However, this year marks the largest group from the school to qualify and compete in the competition.

“It's a huge sense of accomplishment to say you're competing at the World Championship of Irish Dance,” said Tom Stewart, 19, of Crafton, a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh.

This will be his fifth time competing on the world stage.

“These are the best people in the world.”

Stewart will be joined by fellow dancers Kelsey Dolan, 17, of Friendship; Samantha Eckstein, 17, of Adams Township; Grace Eichenlaub, 16, of Pine Township; Aaron Wolf, 14, of Cranberry Township; and Abby Bradley, 10, of Pine, who all qualified in regional or national Irish dancing competitions to compete at the World Championships.

The six students have been putting in extra time in the studio and on their own to prepare their dance steps and bodies for the physically demanding competition.

“You have to practice a lot,” said Wolf, who qualified for the world championships for the fourth time this year. “It's a lot of strengthening to be more athletic.”

In addition to rehearsing, cross-training and stretching, the students also have added plyometrics, or jump training, into their exercise routines to increase the height and visual impact of their steps.

Irish dance, characterized by quick leg and feet movements and high jumps while maintaining a stiff upper body, gained momentum in the United States with the introduction of the touring dance company Riverdance and dance show “Lord of the Dance” in the late 1990s.

The World Irish Dancing Championships, now in its 43rd year, brings together thousands of the world's top Irish dancers and combines the artistic expression of Irish culture and athletic ability of the competitors.

Students don elaborate costumes, unique to each dancer, and the female dancers wear make-up and curly-haired wigs to enhance their appearance on stage.

“It's like nowhere you've ever competed before,” said Eichenlaub, who is competing in the World Championship for the third year.

“It's everything on a bigger scale.”

Last year, about 4,500 dancers competed for the top honors at the World Irish Dancing Championships.

The six students from Bell School of Irish Dance are rehearsing three dances with the hope of “recalling.”

At the World Championships, judges score dancers based on their performance of two dances, one with a hard shoe and one with a soft shoe.

The 50 top-scoring students will be “recalled” and allowed to perform their third dance for adjudication.

“It's more pressure,” Dolan said of the World Championships. “(The goal is) not letting the nerves take away from all the work we put in (to) dancing.”

Bell said this year's students mark a wide range of talent from Bradley, who is the youngest student to qualify and will compete in the youngest age group, to Stewart, who will compete in one of the most senior age groups.

“It takes hours and hours and hours of practice and so much discipline,” Bell said. “They have to learn to manage their time well and (have) a lot of self-motivation.”

Bell will travel to Boston with the students later this month to support and encourage them in their accomplishment of performing on the most elite stage in Irish dancing.

“We're very excited for everyone,” Bell said. “We're like a little family here.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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