Many youngsters take part in competitive activities because their parents hope they will learn good sportsmanship. Gerald G. Huesken Middle School seventh-grade student Olivia Raff has learned about that concept from competing in Irish dance. "No matter the end result, you have to do your absolute best," said Olivia. "You try to make that one (day that you compete) your best day ever, but in the end you should be proud of your work."
Olivia is one of three young ladies from the Lancaster area who have qualified to take part in the Irish Dance World Championships, which will be held from Saturday, March 24, through Sunday, April 1, in Glasgow, Scotland. Faith Ishler, a sophomore at Lebanon Valley College, and Isabella Carper, a freshman at Conestoga Valley High School, will join Olivia at the contest. To gain a place at the world championships, each had to place in about the top eight percent of competitors at the regional contest held in November 2017 in Philadelphia. This will be the third time the girls have competed in the world championship event.
Olivia's outlook should please Irish dance teacher and certified adjudicator Crystal Glick Carper, director of the Hooley School of Irish Dance. "We work really hard to create well-rounded dancers of character," Crystal said. "Our three world qualifiers have learned the importance of dedication, of perseverance, and of turning disappointment into motivation to keep working."
Isabella and Olivia are both looking forward to returning to Glasgow, where they competed in 2015. The girls said they enjoy the touring, meeting the other competitors, and seeing how they will place against the others. Championship competitors come from around the world, including Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Great Britain, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
To prepare, each contestant is putting in several hours per week of classes and practice time, along with attending school. "It's hard to balance college and dance at the same time," noted Faith, who will compete in the under 20 category. "In the end, it is always worth it to put in all the time and hard work." The younger girls agreed with Faith. Isabella, who will compete in the under 14 category, noted that dance classes are two hours long and are held three times per week. Olivia, who will compete in the under 12 group, added that she often practices up to two hours per day on the days she does not attend classes.
Each competitor will dance in a hard shoe round and a soft shoe round, and each will also prepare a nontraditional dance set, to showcase such skills as rhythm, foot work, and endurance. The nontraditional dance is carefully tailored to show off the dancer's strengths. Those who place in the top 50 following the hard and soft shoe contests will then compete by performing their nontraditional dance.
Placing in the top 50 among the number of contestants in a division following the hard and soft shoe rounds is an important goal for each of the girls. Faith was pleased to make the cut at the 2016 competition, where she placed 41st in the world overall. "This year, I hope to place even higher," Faith said.
Both the younger girls had similar goals. "My goal is to get in the top 50 or be (number) 51," said Isabella. Olivia nodded, adding, "I would like to move up. Within the 50s will be pretty good."
The girls have already earned high praise from their teacher. "I'm proud to see these traits have led them to the world championships," Crystal said. "They are humble about their success, but it's really quite amazing as less than 1 percent of Irish dancers will ever reach the (world championships). Our next goal is to see them earn a medal."