All eyes on Belfast as All Ireland Dancing Championships kicks off
High-kicking Irish dancers flocked to the Waterfront Hall in Belfast from all over the world yesterday for the annual All Ireland Dancing Championships.
Organised by the Irish Dancing Commission (An Coimisiun le Rinci Gaelach), the six-day competition attracts thousands of competitors each year from a range of age groups.
Reagan Skehill-White (10), performing in the under-10 category, is the granddaughter of former All-Ireland Champion Chris Skehill from Galway.
She was taught to dance by her mother, aunt and grandmother, who all tutor at the Skehill Academy of Irish Dancing in Watford, Hertfordshire.
"My mum was always teaching classes with my nan, so she usually just brought me along and that's how I started dancing," Reagan said.
For her, one of the highlights of being a professional Irish dancer is the chance to travel widely, and she has taken part in competitions in Ireland and Britain.
Reagan's aunt Louise Roisin Skehill-Cameron said: "There are a lot of major championships around the world, so she gets to travel and have lots of fun.
"She hasn't been to the American Nationals yet, but we're hoping to go to the next one.
"She practises about three or four times a week for about two-and-a-half hours each time."
Siobhan Kerans (9) from Galway, also in the under-10s, has been dancing for nearly five years and has already performed in countless competitions across the UK and Ireland.
"It doesn't run in our family, she just really wanted to do it," said her mother Bridget, who accompanied her to Belfast.
Also performing was Siobhan's friend Nicole McLaughlin (10), who has been dancing for four years.
"My cousin told me it was good, so I just started," said Nicole. "I've been to a good few competitions, but I've never been outside Ireland."
Although she was in one of the last groups to perform, she said she was feeling confident.
Fellow contestant Katie-Scarlett McCaul (10) has been dancing since the age of three and has performed in dozens of competitions.
"I'm a dance teacher so she didn't really have much choice - but she loves it," said her mother Karen McMahon-McCaul, a teacher at the Flanagan-McMahon Academy.
"I'm very proud of her taking to the big stage.
"All the work has been done now and she can only go out and do her best."
The competition was a chance for designers of traditional Irish dance dress to exhibit some of their creations.
Dressmaker Carl Kennedy, the director of Keltic Storm Designs, designs and makes the costumes himself - and they can take days to put together.
"It takes a long time to make a dress and it can be on the embroidering machine for up to two days depending on the amount of detail," he said.
"Then you need another day to make it up.
"Then you have to put the diamonds on, so it's a lot of work.
"I get a lot of ideas from the catwalk, which helps to make the designs a wee bit more fashion-forward," he said.
Josephine Brennan-King and her husband Carl King run I Dance Irish, which is a one-stop shop to cater for all Irish dancing needs - from curly wigs to sparkly tiaras.
Since they founded the business in 2004 they've seen their company grow from a small shop in a little village to a global business selling to countries as far afield as Australia and the United States.
"In the US there is a very big market for everything to do with Irish dancing, so we try to service that side of the market," said Josephine.
For Mrs Brennan-King, who also teaches Irish dancing and adjudicates in competitions, there are many things that make Irish dancing appealing.
"It's great for confidence building," she explained.
"The kids love the glitz and glamour and they get to perform on a world stage, like the Waterfront.
"They get to travel to places they never normally have the opportunity to go to and make friends all over the world."