World Irish Dancing Championships: Middle schooler prepares for spring break competition

Maddie Molloy
Maddie Molloy

The reel, the slip jig, the light jig and the hop jig — Ridgefield resident Maddie Molloy has been celebrating two thousand year of Irish folk dancing tradition ever since she was four years old.
The East Ridge Middle School seventh grader began practicing the dance steps after attending the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Greenwich almost a decade ago.
“I wasn’t as serious back then as I am now, I tried other forms,” she said, “but I kept coming back to the fact that the Irish style of dancing was so different and that nobody else in my school was doing it.”
The only dancer in her family, Maddie trains year-round four to five times a week at the Pender-Keady Academy of Irish Dancing in Stamford. She dedicates two hours per practice in addition to the travel time.
“The movements are very difficult, and how you move up as an individual can be really challenging,” she said.
The hard work has paid off as she has placed first at the New England regional and at nationals earlier this year. Those two victories have propelled Maddie to the World Irish Dancing Championships in Greensboro, N.C. this week.
The international competition starts Sunday, April 14, and run through next Sunday, April 21.
“The world championships are usually held in Scotland or Ireland so I’m extremely lucky that it’s taking place here in the US this year and that I’ll be able to go,” she said.
While she’s traveled to events in cities such as Pittsburgh, Boston, and New Orleans, the World Irish Dancing Championships will be unlike any other performance Maddie’s experienced in her career.
Normally, regional competition draw 1,000 or so dancers. Greensboro is expecting 5,000-plus dancers to converge on the downtown area during spring break this year.
“At worlds, there are two types of competition teams — eight hands and 16 hands, and I will be competing in both,” Maddie explained. “Eight hands is more choreographed step dance music — I think of it as the classic party dance routine, and the 16 hands is what you’d imagine as the original Irish Dancing ... with 16 hands, the teacher reads the backstory and then the dancers perform it.”
Away from the dance floor, Maddie plays lacrosse and basketball.
“There are plenty of weeks where we have some schedule overlaps,” admits Kelly Molloy, Maddie’s mother.
In addition to team sports, Maddie dances in three or four parades every year. She has danced in cities like Norwalk, Greenwich, and Stamford, while also performing at church functions, country fairs and at Irish pubs.
“Although we all attend the same school, there are solo dances that allow individuals to move up certain levels and that creates competition between dancers,” she said.
Practice takes a physical toll, too.
“Dancing can be hard on the body,” she said. “You’re being asked to do so much ... it definitely affects the other sports I play.”
How does she manage to keep going?
“A lot of contrast baths, switching back and forth between cold and heat,” Maddie said. “I also have a lot of muscle rollers in the house.”
Maddie said that every practice begins with a stretching exercise, usually where the dancers skip around the room.
“It’s actually the hardest part of the practice,” she said.
Despite the competition to rise through the levels, her teammates are very supportive.
“There are about 10 girls in my main group of friends and we all motivate each other to keep going,” she said. “It’s such a difficult movement to master that the camaraderie and excitement is really genuine when you get higher and higher up in level.”