O’Rourke excels in Irish dance

Caitlin O’Rourke, junior, prepares to compete, pinning down her wig and applying her makeup. Before stepping onstage, she warms-up, runs through her steps, and receives a pep talk from her teacher. Then, it’s time to perform.

O’Rourke has been Irish dancing since she was five-years-old, when she decided to take classes with her older sister. At first, it was simply a learning process, but soon her talent pushed her to compete.

“My teachers saw that I had talent in it, so I went to practice more, and they helped me improve,” O’Rourke said. “After about a year of small competitions, I was off to my first major competition, and that’s when I started to (dance) competitively.”

O’Rourke quickly moved up in the ranks, and by age eight, she won the Oireachtas, the regional championships for Irish dancers all over the Midwest.

Since then, O’Rourke has placed highly in many competitions, but her success does not come without hard work. Leading up to a competition, O’Rourke attends dance class up to seven days a week for three to four hours each day.

“(My schedule) affects my school and social life a lot because I don’t have much time to go hang out with friends, and I really have to be good with my time management for homework,” O’Rourke said.

For O’Rourke, Irish dance is worth the time commitment.

“I love getting up on stage and doing the best I can so I can achieve my goals,” O’Rourke said. “It’s good to see all of the hard work pay off in the end.”

Recently, O’Rourke has been training for two months to prepare for Nationals, which will be held in Montreal, Canada this July, where dancers from the U.S., Ireland, England, and Canada will compete.

This will be O’Rourke’s ninth trip to the national competition, where in years past, she has ranked highly among her international opponents. She received her highest honor in 2009, when she placed fifth. Going into the 2014 competition, her most recent ranking has been eighth place, which she achieved in 2012.

Irish dance competitions include three rounds. For the first two rounds, dancers perform in groups on stage, while the judges evaluate their unique routines individually. Only then, if they qualify, do dancers make it to the third round, where they have the stage all to themselves. This solo performance is called a “set”.

“I like doing my set most because I’m the only one on stage dancing, and the judges are only watching me,” O’Rourke said.

When the judges like what they see, it is not just herself O’Rourke is representing.

“For awards, I am representing my school’s name because they are the ones who train and choreograph my steps,” O’Rourke said.

Despite her success, O’Rourke does not get complacent at competitions; she knows what she is going up against.

“(Competing against dancers from Ireland) is pretty intimidating because they are a lot more intense over there because dance is a major priority in their lives,” O’Rourke said. “I don’t really feel pressure anymore when I compete against them, but I just make sure that I am ready and prepared to dance.”

O’Rourke enjoys the challenge, citing her favorite competition as the All-Ireland’s, which she attended in 2007.

“It was really fun to travel out of the country for the first time,” O’Rourke said. “It was also the first time I competed against the Irish and English, but I still placed tenth overall.”

Setting aside all of her trophies and sashes, awards are not the only thing that makes Irish dancing worthwhile for O’Rourke.

“My favorite part is all of the friends I have made who live all over the U.S., and even some in Ireland,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke will look to continue her success at the 2014 Nationals.