While some students spent their spring breaks reeling from midterms, Aaron C. Fallon ’11 and Alana C.M. O’Brien ’11 were performing Reels in Belfast, Northern Ireland at the World Championships of Irish Dance. The competition, which took place from March 23 to 30, was a high point for the freshmen, who spent three months training for it. Fallon and O’Brien qualified for the championships after placing first and third, respectively, at the New England Regional Championships, and after placing at the North American National Championships. But for the two freshmen, Irish dancing is not a competitive sport; it is its own world, one they are delighted to be a part of.
The students are no new-comers to Irish step-dancing, though their careers did have different origins. O’Brien’s exposure to step-dancing began at home; her mother was a dancer. At first a spectator at dance performances, she is now entering her sixth year stepping. Fallon’s parents do not dance; he was first exposed to it at Irish festivals and began taking lessons at the age of five. “I thought it was cool,” he said. Dancing and competing is a natural part of both students’ lives. “I can’t imagine not doing it,” O’Brien says.
The constant cycle of lesson-taking, training, and competing—on top of demanding schoolwork—can prove stressful. Both Fallon and O’Brien said that they would only take a week’s break after competing at the World Championship: Nationals are coming up in July, and soon the competitive cycle will begin anew.
Nevertheless, each freshman’s enthusiasm for dancing and everything related to it reaches poetic heights. “Everybody knows everybody in Irish dancing,” O’Brien says. “It’s such a world...”
“...inside of itself,” Fallon adds, completing the thought. “Sometimes you just forget that there’s anything outside of Irish dancing.” Describing Belfast during the competition as a “city of dancers,” O’Brien says that stepping is more than just a hobby. After competitions, he says, “I always come away with a renewed feeling of how much I love dancing.”
To spread their love for dancing, the two started a club at Harvard for new fans and experts alike. Both believe that dancing will remain a significant, even professional, part of their lives. Though she is considering studying the sciences at Harvard, O’Brien plans to continue dancing and eventually get a teacher’s license. Fallon hopes to follow a similar path, perhaps starting a dancing school of his own.
The pair’s love for stepping was enhanced by their experience at the World Championships, where they watched competitors from countries such as Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. The best part of the championships, Fallon says, is “seeing the very best Irish dancers. It’s good dancing to watch.” While local competitions feature dancers of all levels, championships are only for the top performers. O’Briend described the atmosphere as especially intense due to the highly motivated people involved. “At the same time,” she added, “it’s really fun.”
Though O’Brien placed 33 out of 92 in her age group while Fallon placed 18 out of 38, both claim that what matters most is the experience of what O’Brien calls the “Irish dancing bubble.” Neither consciously made the World competition the goal; O’Brien says that she wasn’t even listening attentively when the qualifiers for it were announced. Though this was Fallon’s first time competing in World Championship, he says he would like to do it again. Next year’s championship will be held in Philadelphia, and both hope to go.
“[Competing] can be very taxing on your body. It can be very stressful,” Fallon says, “but in the end it’s all worth it.”