You know which kids are in Irish Dance, their parents say, because they practice the steps wherever they go.
For a Belleville and Millstadt girl, all that practice is taking them to the 2017 World Irish Dancing Championships in April, on the same stage with the best dancers in the world.
“The majority of children that get here (are from Ireland, or represent schools in Chicago); it’s part of their family and their traditions,” Christy Wills said. “(It) feels like (my daughter) Lucy has to work twice as hard to get there.”
The world championships will be a repeat performance for Lucy Wills, 12, of Millstadt, but a first for Rachel Nugent, 10, of Belleville. The girls and their teacher have a fundraiser set for Jan. 25 at Eckert’s, 951 S. Green Mount Road, where a portion of the day’s proceeds will offset the girls’ travel expenses.
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The Nugent family has a dance floor in their basement, and a floor-to-ceiling mirror on one wall for Rachel and her brothers, Luke, 12, and twins Seth and Joel, 8, to practice with. Dozens of Rachel’s winning sashes hang from a side wall, and the floor in front of the mirror has several of her trophies.
Because of the family discount at their dance school, Rachel’s brothers and Lucy’s sister, Reily, 16, and brother, Hudson, 9, also dance.
Lucy has danced since she was 3; Rachel took it up only three years ago. They’ve learned to stand straight, stretching the crowns of their heads as tall as possible, keeping their arms locked ramrod-straight at their sides. Their legs are a whirlwind of kicks and stomps on the hard floor, and the girls fly across the stage with set and determined smiles on their faces.
“We used to have to hold cans (during practice) to make sure our arms were down,” Lucy said.
Lucy has recently graduated to being able to dance on her toes, similar to being en pointe in ballet.
“God, my toes hurt,” she said after an hour or so of dancing in hard shoes.
Rachel prefers the soft shoe dancing because the style is so different, and there are more leaps.
“I feel like I’m flying — lots of high jumps,” she said.
“It’s an expensive hobby,” says Christy Wills, 42, of her daughter’s dance progression. “To really be at the top levels in this, you really have to travel overseas a lot. This will be our third (trip to the world competition in Ireland.)” Last year’s competition was in Scotland.
Lucy and Rachel each have a new dress, which costs about $3,000, for the competition.
Money raised by the girls and their school, the O’Faolain Academy of Irish Dance in St. Louis, in various fundraisers will go only toward the travel costs for the girls and their teacher, Jennifer O’Faolain-Bartley.
There are about 200 girls in each age group at the World competition. Last year, Lucy placed 38; the previous year she did not place in the top 50.
It’s a brutal sport, father Carl Wills says. The girls will have two dances — literally jockeying for a better position on stage as they dance — to prove their merit to advance in the contest. But the rules in regards to Irish dancing include no photography or video.
“Being told they did something wrong, but you can’t pull a video (to show what the judges saw). ... They’re doing their best, and they think they’re just killing it,” Carl said, but are not able to see their performance.