Junior Claire MacLaughlin dances for the Academy Irish Dance Company, for which she has competed and won world championships.
By Josie Stewart, ’21
For junior Claire MacLaughlin, spray tans and wigs are part of her uniform for her competitive sport. Instead of taking the field or the ice, MacLaughlin takes the stage with her company members multiple times a year to compete in Irish dance.
“I dance at the Academy Irish Dance Company in Westerville,” MacLaughlin said. “[I started] when I was eight, [and] I have been all over the United States [for competitions].
She started dancing after being introduced to it by her neighbor and started with ballet and tap before taking a special focus on Irish dancing. Now, MacLaughlin is in the studio anywhere from three to six days a week depending on the date of a competition.
Besides rigorous preparation for competitions on a world stage, MacLaughlin enjoys the benefits of traveling across the country and globe to compete.
In three years alone, the world competition has taken place in Dublin, Ireland; Glasgow, Scotland and Greensboro, North Carolina. Being able to compete, though, is no easy feat.
“There are a lot of girls who want to be on the [Worlds] team, but my teacher just selects who gets to be on it,” MacLaughlin said. “Only the top one percent of Irish dancers get to compete at the World Irish Dance Championships. For solos, my competition usually has about 200 girls in it.”
Since MacLaughlin has started dancing, she has won Worlds eight times with her
hand-selected team and competed in a solo three times at Worlds, currently preparing for her fourth in Dublin this year.
“We have smaller competitions every few months, and then Nationals are in July and Worlds are in April and regionals are in November,” MacLaughlin said. “We have Worlds [which we have already qualified for], so that’s what we’re focusing on right now.”
Preparing for these competitions includes more than putting in time at the studio.
“We have lots of dresses and those can be [about] $2,000. [I think I have about seven] different dresses. We have two different types of shoes we have to wear. We wear wigs, make-up, spray tans,” MacLaughlin said. “I hate spray tans. They’re actually terrible, and it’s just our legs. It’s [all] pretty crazy.”
The dresses are a staple in Irish dancing, where the instructors at the Academy help design the apparel with input from the dancers about colors and small details.
The dancers must also have two different types of shoes—”hard” and “soft”—that are replaced about every six to seven months.
Despite this hard work, MacLaughlin plans to continue dancing, although she is not sure for how long or how she wants to pursue it.
Even with competitions at regional, national and global levels along with classes and practice, the Academy is also well-known for performing at the Dublin Irish Festival in Columbus.
“Every year, my dance company performs at the Irish Festival, and I love to do the shows,” she said. “[Irish dance] is very difficult. We do a lot of hard work, but it’s fun.”
As MacLaughlin continues to prepare for the upcoming competition, she is able to put her three favorite hobbies—shopping, traveling and dancing—all into one with dance. “People [don’t give enough credit to Irish dancers]. I know a lot of sports it’s just one season, but this is all year round,” she said. “[I’ve been going] non-stop for eight years.”