John Egan looks ahead to 2017 and meets a would-be world champion
The New Year 2017 is already upon us and a new year of Irish dancing is about to begin. Dancers everywhere have made their dancing resolutions and are setting goals for the year ahead. Dance organisations all over the world are making preparations for all those competitions that will lead up to their main events, which for most will mean their world championships.
This weekend, for example, will see the All England Championships that will qualify dancers for the World Championships of An Comhdháil in Belfast at Eastertime. The World Championships of An Coimisiún will also be held at Easter and thousands of dancers who have qualified from regional and national oireachtais will make their way to Citywest in Dublin.
One such dancer is Londoner Mairéad Trainor who is no stranger to these main events. Just before the end of 2016 I walked with Mairéad and her mother Bernadette around various London landmarks in order to capture some pics in her home city for use to illustrate her award of Dancer of the Month, January 2017, by the USA based Irish Dance Magazine.
I took the opportunity to ask about her dance career to date. Her highest world placement was second in her age group 2012, and she has had countless championship successes at regional and national level including All Ireland, Gt Britain, British National and All Scotland. She told me of her determination “to make 2017 a great year for me. I am going to work harder than ever and push myself with greater determination to continue to achieve more within my dancing life as my goal is ultimately to become a World Champion!”
A family dance school
Mairéad, now in the under 17 age group, dances with the Trainor School of Irish Dance whose teachers Bernadette, Debbie and Katrina are her mother, aunt and cousin respectively. She acknowledges that “I owe my dancing success to my family who support me all the way and who push me every day to become a better dancer. They have been there since the start of my dancing career and always inspire me to keep pushing hard and never give up.
“My nanny Peggy Trainor is a BIG part of my dancing life; she is my Number 1 supporter and my biggest critic. She is the reason my mum and aunt started dancing, so without her I wouldn’t be doing what I truly love. My nan is known throughout the dancing scene, coming to all dance classes and competitions. I guess she is the ultimate Feis Nan.”
“My dad is also a great supporter. My first competition experience at three years old was at my class feis, and while I was dancing on stage I waved to my smiling dad who looked so proud sitting there. I liked that first experience. I went on to win my first championship Under 5 at Céim Óir Feis and since then I have been placed in top five at almost every major.
“Mum always pushes me that extra little bit to make me the best dancer that I can be. I love having my family members as my dance teachers and supporters as I am very close to all of them, which makes me enjoy dancing all the more. Also my eight-year-old cousin Tilly Brown is an excellent little dancer and we practice together. Really the whole family is passionate about Irish dancing. Mairéad’s first big win was the All Scotland Championships in 2006.
Memorable first successes
“I was six and still remember the results being called out down to the final top two places. I was so desperate to win the “big cup” and the big fluffy toy dog. With fingers crossed I mentally pleaded ‘please, please, please let it be me’. And suddenly I was being helped onto the podium’s first place. It was an amazingly happy feeling to realise that I had won.
“But my best Irish dancing memory would have to be when I won the All Ireland’s in 2011, as it was such an amazing achievement and a memory I will never forget.
“I remember the day being such a long one waking up in the early hours of the morning preparing myself for the day ahead. I was nervous and excited but overall determined as all the hard work I had done was to prepare me for this day. After all three rounds were complete I was delighted having danced my best. Listening to the results, I remember sitting beside mum holding her hand with one hand and the other hand with fingers crossed.
“When the final number was called we realised I had won. I was overwhelmed with excitement, feeling on top of the world achieving this amazing title and making my teachers and family prouder than ever. It also made me and my mum only the second mother and daughter to have become All Ireland Champions. It was the best feeling ever, receiving the cup and sash and standing on the first place podium just made me feel so happy and proud.”
Preparing for the big one Mairéad admits to feeling “a certain level of pressure to be on the podium at every major I attend, as it is important to me! However I know I have to focus on my dances, go on stage and enjoy it, dance my best and believe in myself. When there is a major coming up I train as hard as I can making sure my dancing is at its peak on the day of competition.
“The day before I dance I take it easy and mentally prepare myself to stay focused, positive and determined. On the morning of a competition I usually listen to some music while warming up. It keeps me calm and motivated before I dance. There have been times where I have been disappointed with my result but I don’t let the disappointment get me down.
“I use that feeling to push myself harder and build up that fight and fire in me to make me stronger and more determined than ever. During the lead up the World Championships I train as hard as I can, going to four classes every week and practising at home. I also do fitness workouts to improve stamina, flexibility and core strength. The week before I decrease the intensity of the training allowing myself to mentally and physically prepare so as to be in perfect condition for the competition.”
Dance training outside the school
“In July 2016, I participated in The Riverdance Summer School which was an unforgettable experience learning the Riverdance dances, getting to work with the amazing Riverdance cast, meeting new people from all around the world and learning about show life. I also entered and won the Fusion Fighters Scholarship and was part of their Summer Camp in August 2016. This was again an amazing experience getting to work with the Fusion Fighters’ dance crew, getting to learn different styles of dance and of making friends for life.”
Mairéad is aware of the financial burdens that today’s Irish dancing world can place on parents especially for regulars on the international circuit.
“I am very lucky to have supportive parents who save as much as they can all year which allows me to have the privilege to travel around the world.”
Reflections, advice and the future
“Irish dancing for me has been a challenging but worthwhile journey where I have had to constantly push myself to achieve all my goals. I have made many lifelong friends, travelled around the world and consider myself very lucky to be a part of the Irish dancing community.
“There have been times throughout my competition life where I have lost belief in myself but with tremendous support and realising that dancing was what I was made to do and what I have a real talent and passion for made me realise where I have come from when I was 3 years old to now and knowing where dancing can lead me to be in the future.
“My advice to young dancers is if dancing is what you truly love and have a passion for, no amount of bad days at classes or competition should get you down. You have to use that disappointment and turn it into fire inside you to fight and push yourself to keep working as I believe that what you put in, you’ll get out.
For competitive dancers hoping to move up a level in 2017 my tips are:
• Listen to your teachers
• Practice with your goal in mind
• Attend all your classes with 100% determination
• Be patient – it will all come with time
• Enjoy and love what you are doing
The vision for my own future within the next 10 years is to be part of a show, study and pass my teacher’s TCRG, teach Irish dancing and become part of the Trainor School of Irish Dance.”
At the end of the London photoshoot, I said farewell to Mairéad and her mother Bernadette, and as I made my train journey home my abiding feeling was ‘there goes one young lady who is wise beyond her years and a fitting role model for dancers at the beginning of an exciting journey or even career.’
Each year many dance schools hold their feis in the Christmas period in order to combine a display of internal but competitive dancing with festive fun!