Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Oireachtas 2008 - Thursday and Friday

My daughter and I got back from Phoenix yesterday. Both of us were exhausted, but very happy. Here's a recap of our first two days. (I haven't downloaded pics yet!)


We flew from PDX to PHX using hubby's mileage. That meant we got to fly First Class. Woo-hoo! I hadn't flown like that since I left United. It was a great way to start the trip.

Our rental car was a cute little black car with Texas plates. Mackenna decided we should talk like we were from Texas. Of course, she's never been to Texas, but she has heard Miley Cyrus from Tennessee speak. Needless to say, her "Texas" accent cracked me up.

We arrived at the Arizona Grand Resort in Phoenix where the Western Region Oireachtas was being held. Mackenna was wide-eyed when she saw the place. Her first words, "Wow, that's the biggest fountain I've ever seen."

We went to check in and were overwhelmed by the amount of people, all Irish Dancers, in the lobby area. A line stretched across the room to get your dancer number. We decided to go to the room first, then come back since we were meeting two of my friends from Stanford for dinner later.

The room was lovely. Two rooms. The first had a couch, table and chairs, television and minibar. The bedroom had two queens, a wall full of drawers, closet and a sink, and then the bathroom. We thought we'd be sleeping on the couch since we were sharing the room with another mother and daughter, but since we had two beds we each got one!

We headed back to the lobby to get Mackenna's number. It was a bit overwhelming with all the people, dancers practicing and noise. She kept inching closer and closer to me. I could tell she was nervous and more than a little scared. We did see some people from our school and say hi. They were all Oireachtas pros and very nice and helpful. We got her number, #18, then headed across the street to buy her a number holder for her dress.

Then it was off to have dinner with two friends of mine, twin sisters. I'd reconnected with one via Facebook in the last couple of weeks so the timing was perfect. It was great spending time and catching up with them. I'd been in band with both. At the restaurant we kept seeing people from the dance school. I also got a call from a mom making sure we had dinner plans. They were all looking out for the newbies!

We headed back to the room, met our roomies and unpacked. It was going to be an early morning with an 8 am competition and we had to be there around 7:15 am. I was getting worried though. Mackenna really looked overwhelmed. She didn't want to practice. She didn't want to do anything. I kept telling myself this was just a practice Oireachtas. It didn't matter how she did. It was just to gain experience, but I really didn't want her to have a negative experience.


We were up and ready to go by 7 am. Ready means wig on and make-up done. This was the first competition she's worn make-up. Another mom at our school who wasn't going with her daughter loaned me sparkles and eye shadow and told me what to buy and do. We were at the stage at 7:15 am. Once again, Mackenna didn't want to practice. She warmed up some, but she was very intimidated by everything. It's such a huge competition, much larger in every aspect than anything she'd done before.

Then, one of the dancers from another school in Portland came up to say hi. They compete against each other. This friendly gesture and recognizing a face really helped Mackenna. She started smiling. They talked, hugged. It was awesome. She didn't want to go out of the room to practice, but she finally ran through her steps in place. Huge sigh of relief on my part.

Each round begins with a different number. The starting number for the first round, Hornpipe, was #14 which means Mackenna #18 would be in the second group of three to dance. They dance three at a time at her age.

I have never been so nervous watching her dance before. She's a Prizewinner (dance level) and would be competing against Preliminary Champions (the next level) and Open Champions (the top level of dancers). Prizewinners are only allowed to compete if their teachers say it's okay. I just wanted Mackenna to make it through the dance, remember all the steps and have fun.

She got on stage and danced so well. It's the best I'd ever seen her dance and was so proud. Her kicks and clicks were the highest she'd ever done. She walked off and told me she missed her first click, but it was the best she'd ever danced the hornpipe. I was so happy for her.

The second round started a little later in the rotation so she had a little time before dancing her reel. She made a mistake at the end, but said she was happy how she danced and glad she came to the Oireachtas. We weren't expecting her to recall (the judges recall the top half of the dancers. Recalling is a big deal because it means you placed and win an award).

While we were watching the next age group dance, they started reading off numbers. We realized this was the recall list. It goes in order. I was highlighting the numbers in the program. #14, #18! She'd made it. We were shocked, but very happy. 29 dancers out of 58 recalled in her competition.

If you recall, you dance one more dance called a Set. This is a hard shoe dance. I almost made a huge newbie error though. I'm used to her dancing Traditional Set so thought that was when she'd be dancing. Luckily another mom from our school told us no, Mackenna isn't dancing at 3:15 pm, but in about 30 minutes so don't go anywhere! Thank goodness for her because I was going to take her back to the room for a couple of hours!

The Set dance had me even more nervous. Mackenna actually went out and practiced this one. The reason-she'd never done the dance on a stage or in front of anyone but her teacher and dance class. Since she's a Prizewinner, they only dance Traditional Set dances. You have to be at the Championship level to do a Set. So this would be her very first time performing her Set. Talk about pressure!

But she did great. She said she was off time at the very end, but pleased. She was just thrilled to recall. Dancers and moms from our school kept coming up and congratulating her. It was so great for her and a huge confidence boost.

We watched a few of her friends dance, then headed off-site to grab lunch. I used to live within a mile of the resort in the late '80s and wanted to see my two apartment complexes. Wow, had things changed. It's grown so much and I barely recognized anything. I couldn't believe it was the same Tempe where I'd spent the first three years of my post-college life.

After our little driving tour of mom's old haunts, we went back to the room and took off her wig. I turned on the Disney Channel and gave her a candy bar. Relaxation time. We headed back to the competition to see what was going on. Then it was time for her to get ready for the award ceremony.

The award ceremony was huge. Overwhelming. But a lot of fun. They put on dance music (non-Irish) and all the dancers were up on stage having a great time. It was so loud though. My ears hurt.

Handing out awards took a long time. They call all the dancers up on stage for a particular age group, then they announce the top 20. Those dancers move behind the podium while they hand out awards to all the others who recalled, one at at time, then they do the top 20.

Mackenna's age group was one of the last of the evening. She was fading, but perked up when it was time to go on stage. She didn't expect to be a top 20 dancer. They started announcing the numbers. They announced the nineteenth one, and then the twentieth...18. She'd made it! I looked across a row of seats at her dance teacher who had a sort of amazed/stunned expression. She had two dancers in the Top 20 for that competition! Later, the teacher's mom told me when they announced Mackenna's number it was the first time she'd ever seen her daughter speechless.

Then came handing out awards. At one point they announced that the rest of the dancers had qualified for Nationals. A huge round of applause. That meant Mackenna had qualified for Nationals. Woo-hoo! I couldn't believe she'd done so well as a Prizewinner! They next announced two dancers tied for 18th. Mackenna's number was called. #18 in 18 place! I couldn't be more happy and proud of her. And even better, the other dancer, a preliminary champion from her school who had recalled, placed 9th and qualified for Worlds! It was hard to sleep that night.

Not bad for a "practice" Oireachtas!