By Katie Seminara
Two local Irish step dancers tested their chops at the international level.
YOUNGSTOWN — In the past, Irish dancers Lauren Kepley and Meghan McCarthy danced on foreign turf during international competition.
This year, the two girls, who are students of the Burke School of Irish Dance in Youngstown, had the home-field advantage.
Lauren, 17, of Canfield, and Meghan, 15, of McDonald, have been dancing since age 4, and both competed at the 39th World Irish Dancing Championships during the week of Easter at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.
It was Lauren’s fifth time and Meghan’s third at the world competition.
“There was a lot of stress, but because it was here in the States, we didn’t have to worry about time changes or different foods,” Lauren said. “It’s normally held in Ireland.”
Although Lauren didn’t have to worry about testing strange foods, she didn’t eat a traditional Philly cheesesteak sandwich before competing.
“I’m a pretty picky eater,” she said. “I usually eat a steak, burger or pasta before competition.”
Sticking to her regimen helped Lauren compete against the 159 dancers in her age group.
Meghan competed against 171 in her age group, and both girls placed in the top 100 in the world.
“I was really happy with how I performed,” Meghan said. “It was the best I’ve ever done.”
All dancers perform two pieces, then the judges recall the top third to perform a third dance, she said.
“They recalled 50 in my group, so I was only 14 away,” Meghan said.
“It’s a highly competitive sport,” Lauren said, noting that the judging is tougher at the international level.
The judges analyze posture and even foot and leg position. The dancers must have their feet turned out, toes pointed and legs crossed, she said.
“I had hoped to do better, but I was happy with how I did,” Lauren said.
This year’s championships were the largest in competition history, with more than 6,000 competitors from Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa and Australia, representing more than 400 dance schools, according to the Web site www.worldirishdancing.com.
“The atmosphere was really exciting, and the stage was really big,” Meghan said.
It was the first time the competition was hosted in the U.S., but the event remained a celebration of Irish dance, heritage and culture.
Less travel time for the local dancers meant more time for beauty preparation.
It takes 30 to 45 minutes for the girls to get fit with makeup, wigs and costumes, Meghan said, adding the wig alone takes 20 minutes.
“The wig has to be perfect. If that thing falls off, you’re pretty much done,” she laughed.
Although the competition was stressful at times, both girls agreed that it’s an honor to compete with dancers from all corners of the world.
“The best part is that you get to be on stage with kids from all over the world who are just as good as you,” Lauren said.
“I love the dancing, exploring culture and the friendships I’ve made,” Meghan added.