Pittsburgh's World Champion Irish Dancer
Name: Colleen O'Connor; Age: 16; Lives in: Shadyside
PM: How long have you been Irish dancing?
CO: 9 years
PM: Are you Irish?
CO: Yes, I am very Irish! My dad is 100 percent.
PM: How did you get into Irish dancing?
CO: When I was little, we would always go to see shows with Irish dancing at the Irish Festival and other places around Pittsburgh. My dad, who is really interested in Celtic culture, encouraged me and my sister to take lessons.
PM: Where do you take lessons?
CO: I attend Burke-Conroy School of Irish Dance here in Pittsburgh, where my teachers are wonderful. One of my teachers Theresa Burke travels to Pittsburgh from Cleveland once a week to give lessons and has been teaching Irish dance for more than 50 years.
PM: How much time do you dedicate to dancing each week?
CO: Before a major competition we have dance class three to four times a week for 2 hours, and then I usually practice on my own for about an hour every day.
PM: How often do you compete?
CO: My family and I travel to around 15 competitions a year. We have traveled to Killarney, Ireland, for the All-Ireland Championships, to Nashville, Tenn., for the National Championships and all over the eastern U.S. for feisanna (competitions). I’ll be traveling to Glasgow, Scotland, at the end of March for the World Irish Dance Championships.
PM: What has been one of your favorite competitions?
CO: My favorite competition was the All-Ireland Championships because it was my first time competing overseas. It was so exciting and I loved Ireland.
PM: Do you perform locally?
CO: We do performances all around the city, one of my favorites being at the St. Patrick’s Day parade downtown.
PM: Do you enjoy performing?
CO: I love to perform because I love seeing people in the crowd really enjoying it.
PM: What do you like most about Irish dancing?
CO: I love traveling to so many different places and meeting people from all over the world. I also love the way the music and dancing seem to make everyone come alive.
PM: What sort of gear do you need as an Irish dancer?
CO: There are two types of Irish shoes we wear: Ghilles—they’re also called soft shoes—are similar to ballet shoes but with very long laces. Hard shoes are like tap shoes, but instead of a thin metal plate on the bottom, it has a thick fiberglass tip and heel. We also wear curly wigs and our solo dresses, which are usually handmade overseas.
PM: How do feel about attending the World Championships this year?
CO: This is my first time traveling to Scotland, and I’m sure it will be very exciting. It’s also my first World Championships, and there will be about 2,000 dancers attending—so I’m also a little nervous!
PM: As an Irish dancer, what is something you always have to remember to put on a good show?
CO: It’s hard when you’re on the stage to remember everything that you’ve practiced while preparing for the competition, but one thing you always have to remember is to smile!