Alison Carr was 4 years old and intimidated. It was her first ever Irish dance class, a place where hard shoes crack loudly against wooden floors.
The other kids in the mirrored room knew steps and forms and terms that to her were foreign. She was nervous and felt she might not return for a second class.
She did, at her parents' urging.
"They are not about quitting," she said, sitting at a table outside Red Rock Bistro Beach Food. "They are about continuing."
Alison, who will be a senior when school doors click open at Swampscott High on Aug. 28, has continued dancing and will continue all the way to the Irish Dancing World Championships in London, England in April 2014.
She qualified for the World event this summer when she placed 11th overall, and in the Top 10 in the US, at the North American Irish Step Dancing Championships in Anaheim, California.
The Road and Challenges
It has been a long and arduous road, a demanding discipline, to progress to the point where she can dance with precision and confidence to reels and hornpipes, in soft-shoe and hard-shoe routines.
To dance with a stiff yet relaxed upper body.
The art and discipline of Irish Dancing can be no less nerve wracking as a dancer progresses.
As a freshman she competed in a regional Irish Step Dancing competition in Southern New England.
She had worked hard going into the competition but it wasn't good enough. She finished 12th. And was beside herself, boiling with anger at not having reached her goal — the important 11th place cut-off.
She doesn't typically show her disappointment with dancing results but this time she did — with tears and words she would rather not repeat.
"Oh my God, my mom was so scared of me," she said.
She also vowed to not let that happen again.
Meeting the Challenge
A key to managing the stress of Irish Dancing competition is working hard, she said.
From age 4 to 16 she danced at the Bremer School of Irish Dance in Salem, MA.
Since December she has been working out at the Murray Irish Dance Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, three to four times a week.
She practices on her own on off days, and does sit-ups, yoga and jogs, said her teacher, Anne Murray.
"She handles the pressure of competition well—actually thrives on it!," her teacher said.
When it comes time to perform she channels nervousness to excitement and focuses on the dance.
"You just say to yourself, 'I worked so hard for this, I want to go out and do my best,'" Alison said.
Qualifying for the Worlds
Alison had a goal and a secret goal upon entering the North American Irish Step Dancing Championships in Anaheim, California, in July.
She had to qualify just to compete in the North American event.
Her goal was a top 20 finish; her secret goal, to finish in the top 15 dancers.
As part of the dance preparation, the dancers work on stamina, extension, arches, athleticism in certain moves, and overall stage presence, her teacher said.
"Alison is a quick learner," Murray said. "She listens to her corrections and works hard to make them … she is very good with details. She is smart."
When the dancing stopped in Anaheim, and the results were tabulated, Alison finished in the top 10.
"I was in shock," she said. "I had never done that well."
Looking to the Worlds
Alison's joy over her North American competition results lasted for days, and she still feels good about it.
But her focus is now on preparing for the Irish Dancing World Championships, to be held the week of Easter in 2014. Some 20,000 people are expected to attend.
She thinks about dancing all the time. She hears the music and sees the steps. She drums her fingers on tables.
And she continues to work hard.
"No matter how hard something is you should never give up," she said.