Galloway Township resident Francesca Bishop has practiced Irish dancing for the past seven years, and in that time, it has taken her throughout the Northeast. Last month, it took her a bit farther.
In late June, the 14-year-old traveled to Ireland as one of the first-ever American teenagers to compete in the CRDM All-Ireland Championship in Killarney, County Kerry.
Francesca, who was one of about 1,000 competitors at the tournament, said it was a big change from the smaller competitions she's used to in the United States.
"It was fun; I learned a lot," she said. "It was interesting, the way they run their competition. It's different, they have like five different stages going at once, so it was pretty cool."
Francesca began dancing when she was about 3 years old, doing ballet, jazz, hip-hop and acrobatic dance. She discovered Irish dancing when she was 7, and after she placed second in a competition while still new to the style, she decided to dedicate herself to it.
Irish dancing is different from most American forms of dance in that, instead of incorporating the whole body into the movements, it's done almost exclusively from the waist down, with the dancer's arms held stiffly at her side. The style uses a lot of kicking, leaping and tapping motions.
Francesca has trained under dance teacher Pat Silver since she started. While Bishop practices dance with several other area girls, she is the most advanced, and was the only one of the 10 dancers who traveled to Ireland who hails from South Jersey.
Francesca's dedication to practicing, Silver said, sets her apart.
"She's a very gifted dancer," Silver said. "She works hard and she's very determined, and those are qualities every dance teacher wants in their students."
Francesca made the nine-day trip with her mother, Beth, and while the competition left them little free time, they were still able to squeeze in visits to Dublin and the Cliffs of Moher.
The most jarring part of the trip, Francesca said, was the country's sun cycle. While the sun usually sets in mid-evening in New Jersey during the summertime, in Ireland, it stays lighter much later.
"The sun was up at like, 10:30 at night," she said. "The sun didn't set til like, 11, so it threw us off. We're walking around, and it seems like it's maybe 5 (o'clock) at most, but it's not."
Francesca earned her spot in the competition after qualifying at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships in December. While Francesca competes in the Novice category in the U.S., in Ireland, where training is more intense, she was put on the Beginner B podium.
Her third-place finish earned her a spot on the winners' podium, and Bishop, along with a couple others who traveled with her, were the first Americans to earn this honor.
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