Young islander aspires to make it to the World Irish Dancing Championships
Beloved for its rhythm and pace, Irish dancing is a highlight of many festivals and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Mention Irish dancing, and these events spring to mind along with the wildly popular “River Dance” and “Lord of the Dance” shows.
Not so well known is the sport of Irish dancing, which is administered by the Irish Dancing Commission — Teagascóir Coimisiún Le Rinci Gaelacha — and attracts millions of competitors from around the globe.
While other children her age are focused on learning the latest Fortnite dance, Jamaica Beach’s Moya Hudson is serious about Irish dancing. The 10-year-old has set herself the impressive goal of competing in the World Irish Dancing Championships (Oireachtas Rince Na Cruinne) an annual international competition administered by the commission.
She recognizes her goal might take years to complete, but Hudson already is on her way, having worked through four levels of attainment to compete at the “preliminary champion” level in local and regional competitions.
At the Southern Region Championships in San Antonio in early October, Hudson competed in four dance categories and placed second in three and first in one. Her first place was in the category of Non-Champion Special Reel/Slip Jig and is notable because Hudson only had learned the dance two weeks before the competition and was competing against dancers who were 15 years old.
Hudson fell in love with Irish dancing on a family vacation to Ireland, she said.
“I was just fascinated with it,” she said. “I loved the footwork and that they didn’t use their arms, that was cool to me.”
The Trinity Episcopal School student enjoys mastering the different dance styles, including jigs, reels, soft- and hard-shoe dances, and competing as a solo performer and in teams.
“Competition is a little stressful, but mostly it is fun,” she said. “I like trying to do my best. Solo dancing is just about you, but with team dancing, it is about your alignment with other dancers.”
Hudson’s mother, Kristi McMillan, happily supports her daughter’s commitment to the sport, driving an hour each way to classes at the Drake School of Irish Dance in Bellaire, buying the costumes and shoes and teaching herself the intricate hairdos required for competition and performances.
“It really is so much more than dancing,” McMillan said. “Moya is learning skills for life. She must balance her homework and other commitments with practice and lessons. Through the competitions, she has learned how to win with dignity and respect, and how to lose with respect and dignity, too. I have seen her grow in confidence and maturity through her Irish dancing.”
McMillan, like many people, knew nothing about Irish dancing until her daughter started taking lessons and competing, she said.
“The dances Moya learns are the same all around the world,” McMillan said. “It has been good for her to learn a little of the history of different dances and when they were performed. It is something that brings people together. When you go to a social or community event, it is always wonderful to see how much the spectators are enjoying it. They can’t help but clap along.”
McMillan also has been impressed by the camaraderie at the competitions, she said.
“It is a tight-knit group and very positive, even though the girls are competing against each other, there is a lot of support,” McMillan said. “People will clap at performances and say better luck next time. They’ll also ask how you are doing from competition to competition.”
Hudson’s teacher, Maddie Hane, is both head teacher and manager of the Houston branch of the Drake School of Irish Dance. The school has been operating in Houston for more than 30 years and its teachers, including Hane, are certified by the Irish Dancing Commission. It has branches throughout the Southern United States as well as Mexico and China.
Hane knows just what it takes to get to the World Championships, having competed many times herself, she said.
“Moya is talented, and if she keeps up her practice, she may get there,” Hane said. “It really is practice that makes the difference at the Worlds, you can’t just do it on talent.”
Hane has been an Irish dancer for 18 years and has taught for more than 14 years. She loves teaching young people the sport and she treasures the friends she has made all over the world, she said.
“We’ve added more difficult choreography and extended the sport, but it is amazing that there are still Irish dances the same as they were 200 years ago.”