By THERESA WINSLOW
The Capital of Annapolis
ARNOLD, Md. (AP) — Ellie King’s size 3 shoes are already pretty tough to fill.
The 11-year-old Irish dancer took first place at a regional competition in Florida last month, beating out 90 other girls in her age group. She next heads to the world competition in Belfast, Ireland, at the end of March, where she could add to her rapidly filling trophy cabinet.
“I’m proud of what I’ve done so far,” Ellie said. “But sometimes, I think only about what I can fix. Other times, it’s how much I’ve done right.”
Ellie, who lives in Arnold, practices about 15 hours a week, in addition to going to physical therapy to improve her core strength. She takes group classes at the Teelin School of Irish Dance in Columbia, as well as private lessons.
“She dances with her heart, that’s probably the biggest thing,” said Maureen Gately, owner and director of Teelin. “Everybody can always improve, but she’s well on her way.”
Ellie took up Irish dancing four years ago. Her red hair and Irish heritage certainly helped her blend in, but it had nothing to do with her interest in the activity. She became enthralled after watching her younger sister, Regan, now 8, in class.
Ellie originally took ballet. She found Irish dancing to be faster, which was a big plus. “It’s (also) more jumpy and lifty,” she said.
For competitions, Ellie performs three routines: a treble jig, a slip jig and a set dance. The treble jig and set dance are done in hard-soled shoes. The slip jig is performed in soft-soled shoes.
The jigs last between a minute and 90 seconds and are an intense burst of activity. The set dance is between 2 and 2 1/2 minutes long.
Her competition costume is a short, stiff and sparkly green and white dress that cost over $2,000. When she tried it on before a class earlier this week, it immediately got the attention of some of the other dancers.
“Cool dress,” said one girl.
“Oh, pretty,” said another.
Her dancing also drew plenty of attention.
Ellie’s feet were a blur as she worked her way around the dance studio, clicking and kicking. Her arms remained plastered to her side, which is one of the hardest things to master in Irish dance, she said.
She constantly fights the desire to lift her arms, though the work on her core has helped maintain her dancing posture.
“My feet aren’t as fast,” said Emily Galoppo, 11, of Odenton, who finished 26th at the regionals that Ellie won – the first Teelin soloist in any age group to do so. “(You can tell) she really loves it. She cares more about Irish dance than anything.”
Ellie, who is in the sixth grade at the McDonogh School in Owings Mills, also plays the violin. Between bus rides and carpools to and from school and the dance studio, she doesn’t have much free time. But that’s OK with her.
“I’m dedicated,” Ellie said. “I spend a lot of time with (Irish dance) because I want to win.”
She might get some of her competitiveness from her parents. Mary Kate King, a stay-at-home mom, played lacrosse in high school and college. Paul King, a surgeon at Anne Arundel Medical Center, competes in Ironman events.
Even so, Mary Kate said she was surprised at how quickly Ellie found success on the dance floor. She said her oldest daughter has an amazing recall for dances, both her own and those of her fellow competitors.
Ellie realizes winning in Ireland will be tough, but she has years of competitions ahead of her. She hopes to keep dancing through college and wouldn’t mind being in Riverdance one day.
“She’s very, very, very good,” said Regan, who still takes Irish dance but hasn’t progressed as fast as her sister. “I want to be like her when I grow up.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)