Ask any dancer, and they will tell you that the benefits of dancing are plentiful. Sure, there are the obvious perks associated with the physical exercise aspect of the art; many dance to lose weight or gain muscle. Others dance to express themselves artistically, harnessing movement in a way that encourages self-reflection and catharsis. And others even dance to keep their minds sharp, as there are studies that show dancing can improve mood and mental fitness.
Yet there is another, somewhat less obvious benefit to dance: The act of dancing helps to preserve culture. Certain singular styles of movement coupled with unique costuming and accompanying music can be an enriching form of entertainment. So, it is no wonder that in the mid-1990s, Irish dancing came to the fore with the grandiose theatrical premiere of “Riverdance.” But the moves those dancers made appear effortless, in reality, require numerous years of hard work and dedication.
Just ask 13-year-old Emma Buscemi and 11-year-old Kyra Nakagaki, two Frisco residents who have already achieved more than some adults do in their lifetimes. The two became fast friends after meeting at Maguire Academy of Irish Dance, the studio owned by British expat and world-renowned Irish dancer Darren Maguire. And now, after years of dedication and hard work, the girls will be participating in the annual World Irish Dancing Championship in Dublin this April. There, they will be competing alongside around 2,500 other dancers from all across the globe. “It is going to be really exciting to go because it is going to be the fiftieth anniversary!” Kyra exclaims with an ear-to-ear smile lighting up her face.
But the honor to participate in the championships was not just handed to the girls. Emma and Kyra had the perfect blend of skill, talent, tenacity and perseverance to secure themselves a spot in the fierce competition featuring some of the world’s very best dancers.
Dancing in around 12 competitions per year, Emma and Kyra have traveled far and wide to places like Vancouver and New Orleans, Ark. and Fla. But this marks both of their maiden voyages traveling overseas. And while they have both earned dancing awards in previous years, this is the first time either of them have qualified for the world championship.
Emma says she is excited to compete again alongside her Maguire Academy friends. Not only does she like to perform, but she also adores the community that the studio has built. “The thing I like most about Irish dancing is all the friends and family in there. We are a big family at Maguire Academy, so that is like a big, strong asset to our Irish dancing,” Emma explains.
The girls say they love their other coach, Andy McLane, as well as Mr. Maguire; both teachers are fun to be around but serious when it is time to get to work. Mr. Maguire, who boasts an Irish dancing pedigree, says he was overjoyed when he heard that some of his students had made the cut. “It was emotional, of course,” he divulges. “For them to obtain that goal – the highest spot that you can go to, the world championships – it is incredible. It is like the Olympics of Irish dancing.”
Kyra first enrolled in Irish dancing classes when she was in kindergarten. She had been taking a hip-hop class at a studio that also rented its space to Irish dancers. She says she was hooked on Irish dancing the moment she saw the Irish dancers perform during a studio-wide Christmas recital. “I just loved it so much. So, we tried out a class, and I just fell in love with it,” Kyra gushes.
Emma has been Irish dancing for almost nine years and says she first discovered it by accident. Her parents were watching the 2011 Irish dance documentary “The Jig” one night when she stumbled into the room. After she watched a few scenes, she inquired about what the people onscreen were doing. “I thought it looked cool, so I tried doing it by flailing my legs around like a two-year-old,” she shares with a laugh. From there, Emma joined a class – and like Kyra, she immediately fell in love with the art.
The girls say they adore Irish dancing partly because of how unique it is. Dancers utilize both “soft” and “hard” shoes. With soft shoes, Emma expounds, the dancers employ more graceful movements and high kicks, similar to ballet. Conversely, hard shoe dances are like a cross between en pointe ballet and tap. Dancers wear hard shoes during energetic jigs, clicking their heels and pounding the ground to keep the beat. And what also sets Irish dancing apart is how little arm movement there is; with rigid torsos and upper bodies, the dancers let their legs and core do all the work.
Since the beginning of their careers, the girls have devoted innumerable hours toward rehearsals, shows and competitions. They say their friends are more than understanding and supportive of their passions, even when it means they cannot make it to the occasional sleepover. Luckily, it seems like all the times they missed hanging out with their buds has paid off.
To make it to the world stage in Dublin, Kyra and Emma first had to compete in last December’s world qualifying competition, the Southern Region Oireachtas, in Washington, D.C. Out of 100 competitors in her division, Kyra snagged eleventh out of the 16 girls who placed. She says she was late getting to the stage, though. “So, when they called my number, I did not really realize what this meant until I got up there and realized I am going to Ireland. It was pretty exciting!” she giggles.
For her part, Emma was up against around 125 girls her age. And out of the 17 girls who advanced, she placed fifteenth. This feat was made all the more remarkable by the fact that she had just recovered from a stress fracture in her left knee. Emma’s mom, Tiffany Buscemi, explains that Irish dancing is as rigorous as a major sport. “Emma’s injury is a typical injury a high school football player gets. So, that is the kind of pressure and pounding that is happening to her knee.” Ms. Buscemi also notes that Emma’s doctor gave her the greenlight to compete ahead of the event.
Both of the girls are looking forward to exploring Ireland with their families when they are not competing. Emma is excited to check out a nearby castle, and Kyra says she is thrilled to go sightseeing with her friends and family. More than anything, though, both of the girls are eager to dance in front of the world championship judges. In fact, Kyra says she wants to be an Irish dance judge when she grows up.
Mr. Maguire says the girls have a good chance of doing well in the world championship. Even if they do not place, they are extremely grateful for the opportunity to dance on the world’s stage – and for all those who helped them along the way. “I am so proud that everyone else has been helping me with this because I could not have gone on this journey alone,” Emma says. Kyra shares a similar outlook. “Just getting to go to the world championship is a very big achievement, and I am really proud of myself for doing that,” she says.
Best of luck to these talented Frisco dancers!
Simone Carter is a freelance journalist and avid lover of all things arts related.