A junior at King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham, McCarthy has attended seven world championships, and she’s been close to the top since she was 11. Last year’s win was a peak experience. “It meant everything to me,” she says. “It was so exciting to realize all my hard work and everything I put into it finally paid off.”
Terry Gillan, teacher and former world champion and the event’s chair for the past four years, calls high-level Irish dancing “a cross between dance and sport,” demanding optimal physical conditioning and requiring practice regimens akin to those of professional athletes. A competition judge as well, Gillan says he looks not just for execution of specific steps, but clear rhythm in time to the music, straight posture with a nice carriage of the head, and the overall visual effect. “That’s not to say just because you can fire onstage at 400 miles an hour and jump 25 feet in the air you’re a really good dancer. It’s all part and parcel of what we look at. We often get a lot of bad press about costume and makeup and wigs, but they’re just part of what we do.”
To Gillan, the wide appeal of Irish dance lies not just in its virtuosity but in its accessibility. “The rhythms, the color, the music . . . It’s a fantastic art form, very exciting to watch,” he says. “There’s something everyone can relate to. And at its base, it’s very affordable as a hobby for all ages, backgrounds. It’s open to everybody, very people-friendly. And everyone wants to be Irish on some level, don’t they?”
Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.