Legend has it that Irish dancing developed its unique, straight-arm style over the centuries as a way for its practitioners to hide from prying (British) eyes peering through a window or over a fence to catch them carrying on an important part of Irish culture.
Whether that amusing origin story is a little bit true or a little bit not, it makes for a fascinating dance style, which two Siena students have perfected to the point that they will be competing this month in the “Olympics” of Irish dance.
Hayden-Grace Francis ’23 (above, right) and Ainsley Clinton ’25 (above, left) are headed to Belfast, Ireland for the World Irish Dancing Championships, known as the Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne. They each compete for two days in their respective age brackets; the entire competition runs April 10-17. Only the top 10 percent of competing dancers from around the world are invited to attend.
The pair, whose dance success was recently profiled in the Times Union, both study at the An Clár School of Irish Dance in Albany. They practice and take class there six hours a week, and do cross training and cardio at the MAC back on campus.
“You need a lot of core strength and stamina for Irish dance,” said Clinton.
Their inspiration for pursuing the art form? Francis has Irish blood in her veins: her dad was born in Ireland and they still have family there. Her mom’s parents were born in Ireland and came to the U.S. in the 1950s. They are big on Irish culture.
“I love that Irish dance is part of my family’s heritage” said Francis.
Francis’ two older sisters also studied Irish dance, but she was the only one in the family to stick with it past high school. She credits their teacher Lexa Hickey (below, middle), owner of An Clár and its sole instructor.
“Lexa is amazing,” said Francis, “She has always seen such potential in me and in all the dancers. She knows how to work with every one of us to help us do our best.”
Clinton became intrigued with Irish dance while watching “Riverdance” on TV when she was a toddler. She was told she could start lessons as soon as she learned her left from her right. A trip to the dance studio soon followed.
This is Clinton’s fourth trip to the Irish dance Worlds: she previously competed in Dublin, Ireland; Glasgow, Scotland; and Gainsborough, N.C.
“It’s kind of surreal every time I go,” she said. “I have to remind myself I’m actually here, part of this very specific group of top-tier dancers, dancing on a world stage.”