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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

World-Class Competitors

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In March, Milwaukee made its mark on the international world of Irish dance competition when two students from the Milwaukee area competed in the 38th annual World Irish Dancing Championships in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Maggie Dunn, 19, of Whitefish Bay and 15-year-old Riley Seiler from Greenfield, both students at Shorewood’s McMenamin Irish Dance Academy, were selected in November after winning their respective categories at the Midwest Irish Dance Championships in Chicago.

Dunn and Aine McMenamin-Johnson, founder and executive director of McMenamin, sat down with the Shepherd Express to talk about dance, downtime in Belfast and what not to eat when competing on the big stage of Irish dance.

How did you do at the world championships?
AM-J: Maggie’s competition went extremely well our first year at the championships.
There were 120 girls in the competition and 35 that were called back. Maggie was just shy of the callback.

Considering that you had a broken foot and severe pain, how did you pre pare yourself psychologically?
MD: I took time off. I did things to keep up my stamina. I got the OK from my doctor to push myself.

What was it like to be in Belfast, Northern Ireland, for the competition?
AM-J: It’s the Olympics of Irish Dance.
MD: It was my first world champi onship, so we arrived one week before. Every day I would go and train at the practice facilities. It was fun, but over whelming at the same time. There are about two competitions a day, six to seven days, so you watch for new moves, look for new costumes and support the other girls from America.
AM-J: It was my first time there as a teacher going with the dancers. I was nervous, but we did well.

What sets Maggie apart from other dancers?
AM-J: Your top dancers can do high jumps and execute well without using their body. And they have to have stamina.

How did you relax during the competitions?
MD: I’d watch TV—all three channel (smiles).
AM-J: If I got any downtime, I sat down and read a book. MD: I was writing my paper on “America Nuclear Testing in the Marshall Islands” for cultural anthropology the whole time I was there. It was nice to be away from e-mail.

How often do you practice?
MD: Right now, there are no competi tions, so two to three times a week. But when I have a competition, I practice every day for one hour—two hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays—always at the studio.

Do you practice on any special type of padding or flooring?
AM-J: For a dancer’s health we use a “spring floor,” which is raised and cushioned with air underneath. When a dancer jumps on it, it protects the ligaments and joints.

Do you have a special diet to prepare for the competitions?
AM-J: You want the dancer to eat healthy food: fruits and vegetables, lean protein. In Irish dance, you see all body types. All body types can excel. It’s not so body-conscious as ballet.
MD: I usually like to eat before I compete. There was one competition where I ate an orange and did two rounds [of competitions]. I started to get sick and then, right before the last round, I vomit d, onstage, in a garbage can, in my costume—in front of everyone. I’m never going to eat an orange again.

Maggie Dunn and Aine McMenamin-Johnson | Photo by Don Rask

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