Teens capture the 'worlds' in Montreal

Dancers from Hinsdale on 13-16, 16-19 teams take first at Irish World Championships


Last updated 4/19/2023 at 4:28pm | View PDF

Jim Slonoff

Cayleigh O'Hare, Bridget and Aoife Stover and Gracie Massery were excited to be part of two Ceili teams that won first place at the Irish World Dance Championships in Montreal earlier this month. (Jim Slonoff photo)

Sisters Aoife and Bridget Stover of Hinsdale are no strangers to winning a title at the Irish World Dance Championships. But this is the first year they did so as part of the same team.

They and their six teammates - including Gracie Massery of Hinsdale ­- won the world championship April 2-9 in Montreal for the 13-16 age group in team Ceili dances.

All three girls started dancing when they were 4 years old. Aoife, 15, and Bridget, 13, followed in the footsteps of older sister Shannon and a cousin. About six years ago they started dancing with Lavin-Cassidy School of Irish Dancing in Worth, a troupe known for winning world championships.

"It's such a great community at Lavin-Cassidy, and it's so amazing to see how after we all work together so long, we can work together and win a world title," said Bridget, 13, a seventh-grader at St. Isaac Jogues School.

The team performed two dances in competition, "Trip to the Cottage" and "Cross Reel."

"I like doing those because they're so different," said Aoife, 15, a sophomore at Hinsdale Central. "The first one is kind of slow and elegant and the second one is faster and more peppy. It's almost more fun to do because you're doing more and it all comes together on stage."

Massery, 15, also a sophomore, started dancing with Lavin-Cassidy after moving here from San Diego in 2020. As a little girl, she first fell in love first with competition attire.

"I just saw an ad for those sparkly solo dresses and wanted to try and just kept going from there," she said.

She added team competition to her repertoire when she moved here and has been happy with her decision.

"It's really fun to be part of that team environment and have all your friends with you the whole actual competition day and leading up to the day," Massery said. "It's definitely a rewarding experience to know you're working really hard as a team together."

The focus on formations and precision was a marked change from solo dancing, she said.

"In solos your goal is to stand out on stage against everyone else. It was definitely a different experience," Massery said.

Achieving synchronization requires extensive practice. The girls dance three to four hours five to six days a week, and have been working on these two dances since August. The season includes a Midwest regional competition called Oireachtas and the North American Irish Dance Championships in July.

"Many times you have to move in line together from the person across from you," Bridget said. "That's what makes the team look so cool - because you're all moving together and you're

all in one motion."

The dancers grow accustomed to relying on their peripheral vision to make sure they are in line, Aoife said.

"It comes together really nicely on stage and it's almost like a mirror," she said.

Although it might not appear to, Irish dance requires significant athletic ability, the teens said.

"I think the most challenging part is definitely the stamina, because it takes a lot of energy to basically jump up and down, get your lines and pop up for three minutes straight," Bridget said. "I think we make it look so much easier than it is because we've been in the studio for Lord knows how many hours before worlds."

Massery noted competition requires more than just physical ability.

"The mental challenge day of to keep your cool is definitely a struggle," she said. "It's also a really good experience overall."

Hearing their team came in first was a joy and a relief for the girls.

"I felt like a thousand pounds were lifted off my shoulder," Aoife said. "Second place gets called out and it's not your number and you know you won - it's the best feeling in the world."

Massery said winning as part of a team is more enjoyable.

"Awards are super fun with them, too, sharing how well you did. We were all very happy to win together. It was really, really exciting," she said.

The victory was even sweeter after the girls endured a season filled with challenges, from one dancer who was injured to others who had to miss practice for various reasons. Even travel arrangements made things difficult. Bridget and her mom went to Montreal early in the week for solo competition, and Aoife and her dad almost didn't make it there for the team event.

"It was a little bit of a nail-biter because at some point we didn't think Aoife was going to make it to Montreal," mom Colleen Malloy said. "It all worked out. If she hadn't come, they would've scratched the whole team."

She appreciated seeing the team live up to expectations.

"I was just so happy for them because I know they would have been so disappointed," she said.

Aoife and Bridget said even though they annoyed each other at times during practice, they appreciated being on the same team for the first and last time, since Aoife is aging out.

"It's nice to know you have someone you can count on for constructive criticism," Bridget said.

"In the end it was definitely really fun," Aoife said.

Second championship

Cayleigh O'Hare of Hinsdale and her 16-19 age group team also won a world championship in Montreal.

O'Hare, 18, started dancing when she was 5.

"I think my mom just heard about a local school that was doing Irish dance lessons and she thought it would be a nice cultural thing for me to do in the summer," O'Hare said. "She signed me up and we really had no idea what it would eventually turn into."

This is O'Hare's seventh year of dancing with Lavin-Cassidy and her first year in team competition.

"This is my first time ever doing a team, so everyone else on my team had won a world championship before, and I was the newbie on the team," she said. "It was stressful at times because I didn't want to let any of my teammates down and I definitely had to work super hard to be at their level. Most of them had been doing team dancing since they were really young."

O'Hare took two years off dancing while she was attending the Illinois Math and Science Academy and living on campus there. She transferred to Central during COVID and decided to resume dancing. She thought being on a team would be less of a time commitment, but after being told there was no room for her on the team, she decided to dance solo. Then a spot on the team opened up.

"So I ended up doing both, which was a huge undertaking," she said. "I was able to do it. I was able to still keep up with everything with my school work and my outside commitments."

O'Hare, like Massery, found moving to a team to be quite an adjustment.

"If you make a mistake in solos, it only affects you, but if you make a mistake in teams, it affects seven other girls," O'Hare said. "I think it's just that added mental pressure of wanting to do it right for the rest of the girls on the team."

This year marked O'Hare's fifth solo competition, but she said her focus was on the team event.

Aoife and Bridget Stover (third and fourth from left) and Gracie Massery (second from right) and their 13-16 teammates pose with teacher Ann Lavin-Cassidy and the championship trophy. (photo courtesy of Cathleen O'Hare)

"I think solos kind of took a back seat because I really wanted this world championship not just for myself but for all the girls on the team. I knew it would be my last worlds, as well, so I wanted to make sure we were going out on a high note," she said.

O'Hare, who will attend Washington University in St. Louis this fall - where she earned a full-ride Langsdorf Fellowship to study biomedical engineering - recently accepted a spot as a professional dancer with the Trinity Irish Dance Company.

"I'm really, really excited because we're actually going on a three-week tour of Japan this summer. We'll be visiting a lot of different cities in Japan," she said.

She'll carry with her memories of her time in Montreal.

"I just couldn't stop smiling," she said of winning the title. "It almost didn't feel real. It felt like I was in a dream because I had dreamt of that moment for so long."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean


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