Sister, brother progress in leaps and bounds as Irish dancers

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Feet turned out.

Carolyn, 15, and Wesley McPherson, 13, have been competing in Irish dancing competitions for years. Carolyn started Irish dancing nine years ago, and her little brother started five years ago.  Kendrick Brinson/Staff
Kendrick Brinson/Staff
Carolyn, 15, and Wesley McPherson, 13, have been competing in Irish dancing competitions for years. Carolyn started Irish dancing nine years ago, and her little brother started five years ago.

Toes pointed.

Legs straight.

Make it look easy.

Those are the basic rules of Irish dance, and they keep Carolyn and Wesley McPherson on their toes, their heels - and the balls of their feet.

Carolyn, 15, and Wesley, 13, have been dancing since she was 6 and he was 7.

The folk dance requires them to learn intricate combinations of kicks and footwork while keeping their upper body inactive.

"It's challenging and fun at the same time, which doesn't always happen (with a hobby)," said Carolyn, a sophomore at John S. Davidson Fine Arts School.

And to think it all began while she was watching television.

"I saw Riverdance on PBS and thought it was cool," Carolyn said. The broadcast of a traveling troupe of professional dancers led her ask her mom, Lori, about getting into the dance.

After looking into Irish dancing, Mrs. McPherson said she was sold.

"I was thinking it was something that would be challenging for her," she said. "What's nice about it is that with a lot of sports you're on a team and you do as well as or as poorly as the team. With ballet, she can only progress at a certain speed within her body's development. With Irish dancing you can progress at your own pace."

Wesley, 13, an eighth-grader at Davidson, had a different motivation for beginning.

He had watched his sister dance and thought it was fun. He'd copy her moves and bug his parents to let him take lessons.

Plus, he said, "she was also getting medals and I wanted to win awards, too."

Carolyn and Wesley have worked their way to the highest level of competition for their age groups and frequently take home titles.

Each works to qualify for the Oireachtas, the world championship.

Wesley has made it to that competition and even traveled to Ireland in the fifth grade to compete in the world championships for Irish dancing. He kissed the famed Blarney Stone in Blarney Castle.

The family has also traveled to Ottawa, Canada, and Scotland for competitions.

To stay competitive and continue to hone their skills, Carolyn and Wesley take lessons in Columbia each Tuesday. Twice a month they go to Charlotte, N.C., to study at the dance studio Rince Na'Eireann (Dance of Ireland). They usually carpool with two other families from the Augusta area on those trips, anc Carolyn said she uses the travel time to do her homework.

Irish dancing takes a lot of different skill sets, according to the two.

"It takes concentration and lot of brain cells," Carolyn said.

"It takes practice," chimed in Wesley.

"And a good work ethic," his sister added.

There's also a need for a good memory to remember all the dance steps and the techniques to do them, as well as coordination to keep the body doing the many difficult moves required.

Wesley's favorite move is the back click.

"As you're turning around you click both your heels together in the back instead of out in front," he said. "I really like that one."

All those routines get stuck in their heads.

"Sometimes at school, if I learn a new step, I do it (with her feet) underneath my desk" Carolyn said. "I do it with my hands, sometimes, too. If I'm at a competition and the music's playing, I'll run through it with my hands just to make sure I remember how everything starts."

Wesley finds himself getting lost in the rhythm in more visible places.

"Sometimes I start walking through the hall at school and it just sort of comes out," he said.

FOR CAROLYN, DANCING also requires putting on traditional Irish dancing garb.

The signature costume is a colorful. ornate dress with calf-high white socks. And then there are the curls. Girls who do Irish dancing are expected to wear ringlets in their hair.

"It's either a wig or a very long time curling and uncurling the hair," Carolyn said. "We went the wig route because it takes 10 minute to get it in and five minutes to get it out. It's a whole lot easier than the curlers, and it looks a whole lot more normal the day before."

A few times before she had to wear the spike curlers in her hair to school. It received some odd looks.

THEIR FRIENDS ARE pretty receptive, when they aren't pretty amazed, at their dancing skills.

Not everyone knows they dance, though.

"I had one science teacher in eighth grade who didn't know I did Irish dance," Carolyn said. "She just knew me for being good at math and science.

Of those who do know they dance, there is plenty of support.

The fewer still who merely hear about them, yet never see them in action, do come up with a few misconceptions.

For one, they aren't a tag team. Carolyn and Wesley rarely dance together. Being different ages and genders, they are truly solo acts. They never compete against each other at feisanas (Irish dance competitions) and it's only at community or school talent shows that they'll go head to head.

The second misconception might be the biggest one. They aren't Irish. Mr. McPherson traced the family lineage and said the family has French and Scottish roots, as far as he went back.

Thirdly, Carolyn and Wesley say they aren't just Irish dancing machines

"We don't just do Irish dancing," Carolyn said. "We do other extra stuff on the side. It's not like our whole lives is school, Irish dancing and eat and sleep.

Carolyn, who wants to be an engineer when she grows up, does choir, hand bells and plays in the orchestra at church. After school, she's in the math, science and Latin clubs. She also plays flute and is learning the recorder.

Wesley plays piano, is a Boy Scout and a member of the Junior Honor Society.

He wants to be in aeronautics, either as an astronaut or an aeronautical engineer.

For Carolyn and Wesley, the world is an open stage and they have learned how to kick, leap and dance their way around it.

"If anybody has a talent that somebody else doesn't have, they're kind of unique in that way," Carolyn said. " Irish dancing is a unique trait that we have."

At a glance

Carolyn

Favorite food: Quiche

Favorite TV show: Ghost Whisperer. We watch Amazing Race, Survivor, the dance shows like So You Think You Can Dance.

Favorite music: Oldies and the Phantom of the Opera, Carrie Underwood, Josh Groban. "I'm not one of those big-concert-with-great-big- amplifiers types of people."

Wesley

Favorite food: Ribs

Favorite TV show: Ghost Whisperer

Favorite music: Country, oldies and Billy Joel


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