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Fitch Irish dancer steps into the global arena

AUSTINTOWN — Being local doesn’t mean you can’t have worldwide dreams.

For Jocelyn Mehle, 14, a freshman at Austintown Fitch High School, her dream is to become a professional Irish step dancer.

After ranking 10th out of 87 at a national competition in Chicago on Nov. 26, and with a recent invitation to perform in Ireland in April 2022, her goal may be within reach.

Fewer than 1 percent of American dancers earn a shot to compete at the World Irish Dance Championships, according to World’s Irish Dance.

Irish step dancing is a style of performance dance with its roots in traditional Irish dance. The dancers keep a stiff upper body with fast and precise movements of the feet, and the style can be performed solo or in groups. Dancers typically wear heavy, traditional, embroidered Irish clothes with two different shoes; one made of fiberglass, and another with leather. Each dance typically lasts from 1 to 3 1/2 minutes.

Jocelyn’s mother, Vicki Mehle, has supported her passion since she was 8. Step dancing runs in the family, and her older sister, Kayla Mehle, was her teacher.

She said it’s typical to practice dancing daily while being a full-time student.

“She’s also a star student in her college-prep classes,” Marie Dockry, Austintown Fitch’s freshman class guidance counselor, said. “During the day, she’s a student and in the evening, she’s practicing.”

The 2022 World Irish Dancing Championships will be at Waterfront Hall in Belfast from April 10 to 17. The competition is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Hundreds of qualifying dancers worldwide perform in three rounds. Jocelyn hopes to make it to at least the second round, and if she doesn’t, she’ll just travel for the rest of her trip.

Jocelyn won’t be abroad alone, though. Her seven classmates that qualified for the competition at the Burke School of Irish Dance will be joining her with their own solo performances. Annie Lynch, Caitlin Hartman, Marley Ervin, Cameron Sweeney, Sheila Clark and Bebe Duffs, all of Youngstown, will compete as will Aoife McLaughlin of Cleveland.

“The entire Burke School of Irish Dance in Youngstown is incredibly proud of all of our dancers’ achievements in qualifying for the World Championships in Belfast. The amount of work they put into practice is truly impressive. They all serve as great role models for the other students and are a credit to Tessie Burke in her 50-plus years of teaching Irish dance to the young men and women of Ohio. On behalf of the board, the teachers and their fellow students, we wish them the best of luck in the spring,” the school said in a statement.

“I honestly really do love being on stage. I love going to different states and I’m excited to go to a different country and meet different people. When I’m dancing it feels like there’s nothing else around me. … It’s just you, and dance and that’s it, — it’s my whole world,” Jocelyn said.

To donate toward the dancers’ airfare to Ireland, visit https://burkeirishyoungstown.square.site/.

lanastasiadis@tribtoday.com

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