A Boyds resident has taken the top prize at the Irish Dance Teachers Association of North America Southern Region Oireachtas while dancing with the McGrath Academy of Irish Dance which is based in the Washington, D.C. area.
Jessie Welgos, daughter of Dave and Jennifer Welgos of Boyds, fended off 113 competitors to reclaim her first-place title in the girls’ under-12 competition in the Oireachtas. And, Sophia Rankin, daughter of Chris Rankin and Jennifer Reed of Cabin John, out danced 146 dancers to claim her spot at the top of the podium in the girls’ under-15 competition.
The Oireachtas (pronounced Uh-ROCK-tus) is a regional championship where Irish dancers compete to qualify for national and world championships. The southern region, of which McGrath Academy of Irish Dance is a member, includes Alabama, Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Mexico. Oireachtas is the Gaelic word for legislature or meeting.
Nearly 2,000 dancers competed at the event, which was held in Houston on Dec. 7. Of the 40 McGrath solo dancers and seven traditional set dancers who competed, 31 solo dancers and four traditional set dancers placed in the top half of their competitions. Thirty-one dancers qualified to compete at the national level, and 12 qualified to compete at the world championships, which will be held in Greensboro, N.C. All four of McGrath’s eight-person ceili teams who competed in Houston will compete at worlds as well.
“That’s an 85 percent recall rate for solo dancers,” said Lauren McGrath Dutton, of the McGrath Academy of Irish Dance. “But what’s even more impressive is that our relatively small school brought home four first-place perpetual trophies.”
Among those qualifying for the national championship were Camryn and Morgan Flaherty, of Boyds. Camryn qualified to compete at nationals by placing in the girls under 12 solo championship, while Morgan qualified to compete at nationals by placing in the girls under 14 solo championship.
Catherine Wraback, of Germantown, qualified to compete at nationals by placing in the girls under 17 championship. Both Wraback and Jessie Welgos are also members of the drama and ceili teams.
“I am so proud of Jessie and Soph for winning their titles,” said Dutton. “They all worked exceptionally hard this year. Aisling is a lovely dancer, who has established herself as the top dancer in our region. Jessie defended the title she won last year and was a standout among her competitors. Soph set her sights on the top spot, then spent hours and hours each week working at the studio to make her dream a reality. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
In addition to the three solo firsts, the McGrath dance drama team, composed of 20 dancers ranging in age from eight to 18, won first place with their rendition of “Banshee in the Bedroom,” a story and drama choreographed by John Lawrence Morgan, and inspired by a range of traditional Irish folklore, as well as the poetry of W.B. Yeats and some contemporary musicals.
Dance drama is only performed at major Irish dance competitions. Teams portray an Irish historical or traditional story or event. Performers are not allowed to speak, although a narrator is permitted to read the story before the six-minute performance.
“I couldn’t be more delighted with the results we obtained at the recent regional championships, which clearly cements McGrath Academy of Irish Dance as one of the leading providers of Irish dancing in the southern region, with four regional titles,” said Morgan. “This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of both teachers, dancers, and parents. It has been a fantastic 12 months for the school, and we are excited to display our talent on the world stage in Greensboro in 2019.”
2018 also marked the year McGrath re-entered the ceili competitions. Typically, competitions are 8-hand (person) dances, where judges score not only on skill and movement but also on adherence to traditional steps.
"Ceili dancing dates back to the origins of Irish dancing and was meant as a way to meet and get to know new people,” said Ariel Raguso, TCRG. “Today it is still bringing dancers closer together because there is so much focus spent on the team and not just one dancer. I couldn't be more proud of how the teams performed and worked together to achieve such high ranks on their first time out."
The Oireachtas also features a traditional set dance competition. The choreography of these dances is “set,” as teachers cannot change choreography. Lindsey Johnson won the under-12 competition, and Ella Gould won the under-14 age bracket.
McGrath Academy of Irish Dance was founded in January 2004. Classes are offered throughout at locations in Bethesda, Damascus, and Frederick.
Top: Award winners at the Irish Dance Teachers Association of North America Southern Region Oireachtas during the Sunday competition, which includes Morgan Flaherty and Catherine Wraback.
Next: Boyds resident Jessie Welgos earned the first prize in the girls’ under 12 solo championship competition for the second year in a row.
Next: The Team Drama award winners including Jessie Welgos and Catherine Wraback.
Photos courtesy McGrath Academy of Irish Dance