Ellie King, a competitive Irish dancer who dances with the Teelin School of Irish Dance in Columbia, placed first in the Southern Region Irish Dance Championships in Orlando, FL, on Dec. 2.
After a year of preparation, Ellie competed against 91 dancers in the age 11 and younger group. This was the first time a dancer from her school (or from this area) has won a regional championship, said her mom Mary Kate King.
Winning first also qualified Ellie to compete at the World Irish Dance Championships in Belfast on March 30, 2012. However, Ellie already qualified for the world championships at the North American Irish Dance Championships that took place in July in Nashville, TN.
She placed 13th in her age group at nationals and again, was the first dancer from her school to qualify for world competition at the North American Nationals.
Ellie, a Chesapeake Academy graduate and now a sixth-grader at the McDonogh School in Owings Mills, started ballet when she was 3 years old, and began Irish dancing when she was 7.
She started because her younger sister, Regan, began taking a "Tiny Toes" class and Ellie would dance along.
"She was always very good at ballet and seemed to have a natural ability to learn the steps quickly," her mother said.
When Ellie was 8 years old, she competed for the first time at a "feis." The Irish word feis (pronounced “fesh”) means festival, but is more commonly used to describe a sanctioned Irish dance competition, Mary Kate King said in an email.
From that point on, Ellie was hooked on competing. She quickly moved through the ranks and, in 2010, became an Open Champion, which is the highest level of competition.
"I love dancing and I love to compete," Ellie said in an email. "I really like the music I dance to and all the different steps. It was an honor to compete against so many great dancers from all over the southern U.S. and Mexico. I set a goal for myself that I wanted to win my age group at Oireachtas."
Ellie dances three to four days a week at the studio under the tutelage of owner Maureen Gately, but also has a small studio at home where she practices independently. Ellie also works with Molly Nilan, the director of the Champion program.
"It felt amazing to reach my goal after months and months of practice and hard work," Ellie said in the email. "I was so happy when I won, I told my mom that I would cry if I did. I'm crying in all the pictures, but I was really, really happy!"