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Carpenter Academy of Irish Dance’s Athens location had five Oconee County girls place in their age groups at the Southern Region Oireachtas held in Dallas, Texas, on Dec. 1. And three local girls qualified for the National competition.
In the traditional set competition, Pippa Bendle was 1st place, Finley Smith was 4th place, Ruby Darnell was 5th place, Claire Johnsen was 21st place and Mazlyn Mierswa was 12th place.
Oonagh Benson, director of Carpenter Academy of Irish Dance of Athens, said Irish dance is danced energetically either solo or in a group while wearing soft or hard shoes.
The academy specializes in performance and competitive Irish dancing, offering classes for dancers 5 years old to adults at levels from beginner to championship.
The Southern Region Oireachtas is a regional Irish Dance competition with dancers from the United States and Mexico, Benson said.
“The girls learned their dances over the summer, and we practiced those twice a week, as well as workshops throughout the time frame and then they competed in December,” Benson said.
Benson said dancers reached the novice level to qualify for the Oireachtas and competed there to qualify for the national or world competitions.
“Our competitions are in Atlanta or South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida,” Benson said. “There’s competitions all over.”
Of the five local girls who competed and placed, Bendle, Smith and Darnell qualified for nationals this summer in Dallas.
Benson said they competed at the Oireachtas within their age groups of about 50 dancers.
Darnell, Johnsen and Mierswa danced in the under 12 years old competition, Bendle competed in the under 14 years old competition, and Smith competed in the under 16 years old competition.
“I’m extremely proud of the girls, how they danced and proud of my dancers and how hard they work,” Benson said.
Benson said dancers were judged on their technique, presentation, style and ability to dance correctly.
“The traditional sets are actually the same dance,” Benson said. “In each of the traditional sets, there are very similar steps and so you’re making sure there’s no mistakes.”
Because the girls danced in hard shoes, they were judged on their rhythm, timing and the sounds they made.
The academy was founded by Amanda Carpenter in 2018 with Georgia locations in Athens, Buford and Woodstock and out-of-state locations at Fort Walton Beach, Florida and Asheville, North Carolina.
Benson said dancers at the academy are required to attend a competition each season to compete at the Oireachtas.
The dancers who qualified for nationals will compete with their same dances but in total, each dancer learns five dances to compete at local competitions and perform.
March is typically busy for the academy with Saint Patrick’s Day and performances at senior centers, restaurants, breweries and private parties.
Benson said classes have boys and girls in them and anyone can try one for free.
Information on classes and upcoming performances can be found at carpenteririshdance.com/athens or on Instagram @carpenteririshdanceathens and Facebook at Carpenter Academy of Irish Dance Athens.
“Irish dance is a different world that a lot of people aren’t familiar with,” Benson said. “But we have fun. We have a good time and work really hard and love to perform, love to compete.”