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O’Briens return to Irish Dancing Championships

Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 08:11

irishdance

Courtesy Claire O'Brien

Claire O’Brien (pictured above) and her brother, Conor, are heading to the World Irish Dancing Championships in the spring after their successes at this month’s New England Oireachtas competition.

Tufts students and siblings Claire and Conor O’Brien earlier this month qualified independently for the 2013 World Irish Dancing Championships, which is scheduled to take place in Boston this spring.

After winning the New England Oireachtas, a regional dance competition that took place two weeks ago, Claire, a senior, and Conor, a sophomore, will be attending their sixth and 10th World Championships, respectively.

At the World Championships in Belfast, Ireland last year, Claire secured the 10th spot in the competition and Conor the sixth.

Claire O’Brien began dancing at the age of five, and her younger brother was left behind to sit through her classes each week, but eventually becoming involved.

The siblings compete independently but practice and cross−train together regularly. Residents of nearby Newton, Mass., the siblings return three to four times each week to train at the O’Shea−Chaplin Academy, which they have attended since early childhood.

Claire believes that Irish dance is taught in a way that is inherently competitive.

“Going to dance class, even as a young girl, was all about getting kids ready to compete as soon as they can,” she said.

Conor’s appreciation for the competitive aspect of Irish dance is in line with his past experience as a high school athlete.

“I balanced dance with running track in high school, and I’ve always treated it as a sport rather than an art,” he said. “I’m not as into the performance associated with Irish dance as I am interested in training to compete.”

Claire serves as co−president of the Tufts Irish Dance Team, which, she explains, gives those who are passionate about Irish dance but have no access to a dance school the opportunity to participate. She considers the team a way of bringing those connected or interested in Irish step dance together and exposing the Boston and Tufts communities to the sport.

“Every Irish dancer realizes that it’s not the biggest sport around, so we all feel an obligation to get out there and perform to keep it alive,” she said. “After all, people become interested in Irish dance by seeing it live.”

Alexa Petersen, a senior, is co−president of the Irish Dance Team with Claire and has competed at the World Championships eight times, though she retired from her competitive career at the end of her sophomore year. She is confident that both siblings will perform well this spring.

“Claire has a work ethic that I admire,” Petersen said. “She placed tenth at the World Championships last year, and I’m sure she’ll go far this year.”

“Conor has been consistently placing in the top five at the World Championships,” she added. “He’s been competing for many years to get a good spot on that podium.”

On average, Claire dedicates 20 hours a week to dance, including time spent at practices and competitions.

Both siblings agree that training for competitions is both time consuming and physically demanding.

“My results from competing are based on the amount of time and energy I put into preparation beforehand,” Conor said. “It would be pretty difficult continuing with the training regimen necessary to compete seriously after college, but I don’t think that dance is something that we’ll ever step away from completely.”

He has placed in the top 10 in his age group at the World Irish Dancing Championships since he was thirteen, but despite his success, he does not feel that the competition ever becomes easier.

“Every year is different,” he said. “It has gotten less stressful, as I know what to expect from the competition, but it’s never old hat. I never lose appreciation for the prestige of the competition.”

Claire said that her levels of comfort and confidence have improved after her many experiences at the World Championships.

“It’s all about being confident in yourself and realizing that you’ve earned the right to be where you are,” she said.

This year marks the second time in the in the competition’s history that the World Irish Dancing Championships will be hosted in the United States. Both siblings are looking forward to the excitement of having the competition so close.

“There is definitely going to be the added pressure to do well because we’ll be competing in our home town,” Conor said.

“It’s pure luck that it’s my senior year and that the competition is being hosted here,” Claire added.

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