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Canada ‘Olympics’ of Irish dance lures 5,000 competitors to Montreal

More than 5,000 competitors from all over the world – some as young as 10 – have been competing in a variety of age groups.

The Canadian Press

It's described as the "Olympics" of Irish dance.

The 45th annual World Irish Dancing Championships are being held in Montreal through Sunday – the first time they've come to Canada.

More than 5,000 competitors from all over the world – some as young as 10 – have been competing in a variety of age groups.

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They perform three dances in front of a panel of seven international judges, with their final result based on all three rounds. There are also teams of eight to 16 members who dance traditional or figure dances in synchronization.

Rose Anne Jackson, a former dancer from Scotland, says competitors come from all cultural backgrounds.

"Because of the power of the Lord of the Dance and Riverdance shows, people worldwide have become captured with the whole culture and tradition and the dance," said Ms. Jackson, who sells wigs and accessories at the event.

Families and their children commit a lot of time to dance practice in order to reach the worlds.

"To achieve at this level, you would be attending dance class five to seven days a week and practising," according to Ms. Jackson. "The kids who are competing here are the best in the world – they're like Olympians."

Ms. Jackson said she believes the outlandish curly wigs worn by the dancers ensure a level playing field. "Some kids have beautiful curly hair and some have horrendously straight hair and it [the wigs] just makes them all look the same," she said.

Ms. Jackson's wigs are manufactured at a plant in China and the most expensive one costs $200.

She said the colours match the sparkly dresses wore by the dancers. "It's the whole look," she added. "If the kids look good, they'll dance their best."

Jacqueline Kennedy of Belfast co-founded Elevation Design, which sells dresses for up to $2,500.

Ms. Kennedy said a custom-designed dress takes six to eight weeks to manufacture and each customer has preferences.

"Some of them might like something Celtic, others may want to be more contemporary, so our job is to match the customer with the proper dress," Ms. Kennedy said.

This year's championships are also honouring people described as being at the forefront of Irish dance in the country.

They are Mary Bryan, Brigid Grant, Paula Woodgate, the Butler Family, Sally Houston, Finnuala Irwin, Violet Moore and Margaret Mullen.

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