Local Irish dancer steps up to international competition

by Wendy Turrell

Revere High School junior Kayla Amick qualified to compete in the 2024 World Irish Dancing Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, in March. Amick’s road to the prestigious competition has been paved with years of dedication to the art, both in and out of dance classes.

Amick began studying Irish dance at the age of four, under the tutelage of 30-year veteran Irish dance instructor Eileen O’Kennedy-Dunlap, who teaches at the O’Kennedy Holland Irish Dance Academy at Pinnacle Sports in Medina. Amick said as soon as her parents started her in classes, “I fell in love with everything about it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really loved the process of getting better and becoming the best I can be.”

Many Americans may be familiar with the energetic, fast-paced style of Irish dance after watching the televised performances of Michael Flatley’s “Lord of the Dance” productions. The nonstop quick steps and closely choreographed dances to Celtic music popularized the genre with audiences worldwide. Reaching the top ranks in this highly competitive dance style requires both artistic and physical discipline.

Amick regularly takes three classes a week, in addition to workshops and private lessons, to prepare for competitions. Along with drilling her steps and practicing her dances each day, Amick said, “I train daily to improve my strength, power, stamina and areas of technique. I do different types of workouts each day, like weight lifting and running.”

O’Kennedy-Dunlap admires Amick’s attitude and talent. “Kayla is a very, very, very hard worker,” she said. “She puts so much energy into improving, working constantly on her fitness, diet and all aspects of improving her performance.”

“In addition,” O’Kennedy-Dunlap continued, “Kayla has an outstanding demeanor. She is the sweetest 17-year-old you’ve ever met.”

Amick described competitive Irish dances styles as either “light” or “heavy.” “The light rounds are in shoes close to ballet slippers, and the heavy rounds are done in shoes closer to tap shoes,” she explained. Competitors alternate between the two styles each year, depending upon their age group. The choreographed ensemble dancing is called a “set,” in which competitors perform in the heavy shoes.

In competitions, Amick said judges look for turnout, pointed toes and straight knees, as well as more intangible elements like “power, grace and sharpness.” She conceded these features could be subjective, “So it really depends on what the judges like that determines how you do on that day.”

The Commission of Irish Dance (the largest Irish dance organization in the world) sponsors the international competition. In order to qualify for internationals, Amick had to place within the first nine in her category at the Mid-American regional Irish Dance competition, which included 140 dancers from 14 states. Amick placed eighth.

In Glasgow, Amick competed in two solo dances – the slip jig and treble jig – both done in soft shoes. Each solo competition consisted of two rounds, then a final recall. Amick did not make the final round but enjoyed her time in Scotland.

“Glasgow was incredible,” she said, “The country is beautiful, and the people are the friendliest everywhere you go. I’m so grateful I got to go and spend time with my parents, teachers and support my friends who were competing.

“I’m lucky to get to compete in one of the most incredible age groups. … The under 18 girls are all absolutely amazing. I’m really happy to say I danced two rounds that I’m proud of, and that I was able to show all of my hard work on the day.”

Her talents qualified her to compete in internationals last year as well, in Ireland. She is currently working on two new dances for competition, the reel and hornpipe. ∞

Kayla Amick dances a treble jig during the world Irish dance competition. Photo by Shamrock Photo Central.

On our cover (photos): Kayla Amick must dress in costume for the Irish dance competition in Glasgow, Scotland. In front of the SEC Armadillo building, where the competition took place, stands Amick (r) with her friend and fellow competitor Kayana Scannel (l) and teacher Michael Holland. Photos submitted.