'Emma's Olympics': North Yarmouth 10-year-old to dance at world competition

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NORTH YARMOUTH — Emma Fitzpatrick has dedicated seven of her 10 years to Irish dancing, and her diligence has earned her a place at the 2012 World Irish Dancing Championships.

Her trip next April to Belfast, Northern Ireland, will be her first outside the U.S.

“I’ve been working towards this goal for a while, and it feels great to reach it,” she said last week.

The North Yarmouth Memorial School fifth-grader is a daughter of Joe and Patti Fitzpatrick. She was inspired to get into Irish dancing by her two sisters – Shannon, 17, and Molly, 16; her brother, Joseph, is also a big supporter of the many dancing events his sisters have participated in around the country.

“It’s been a huge commitment … for the family, but it’s been a really wonderful experience,” Joe Fitzpatrick said.

“It gives me the chance to go around the world … and meet people from other places and become friends with them,” Emma said.

By the age of 6, she had worked her way up from the beginner level to the top open champion level. She placed first in regionals in New England and third in the national competition for 8-year-olds. Although she had met the qualifications necessary to participate in the world competition, 10 is the youngest age a person can be to compete in the worlds.

Emma’s sisters, who help hone her performance, are open champions as well.

Irish dancing can be a physically demanding pursuit, Joe Fitzpatrick noted.

“I’ve coached sports and looked at sports, (and) I’ve never seen anything like what these girls go through in terms of … lifting your own body weight,” he said. “And the blisters: (Emma) came home the other night, and her heels were just kind of shredded, because she’s working so hard to get ready for the (November) regionals.”

Emma practices about three to four times a week, which before a competition can stretch to seven days a week and sometimes several hours at a time, all year round.

“The amount of time they have to put into Irish dance to make it to this kind of level … they give up an awful lot of other things,” Joe Fitzpatrick said.

He noted that the world championship “is kind of like (Emma’s) Olympics. For her to reach her goal at 10 will allow her, when she goes to high school, to play some other sports, maybe, and cut back on this a little bit.”

Emma is by herself on a stage at the big competitions, scrutinized by a panel of judges and watched by an audience of hundreds who must remain quiet.

“It’s terrifying when you’re up there by yourself,” Molly Fitzpatrick said. “I give Emma a lot of props, because as a 10-year-old, it takes a lot to go out there and put yourself out there and be confident, and she does that very well.”

“They’re looking at your arms, your feet, your eyes,” Joe Fitzpatrick said. “Your eyes are supposed to stay straight ahead, your arms are frozen at your side, and you’re just moving from the waist down.”

When under that most critical of spotlights, Emma said, “everything around the room kind of just goes away. I think of how I’m going to get through the dances, and what it takes to push myself. … I try and do my best to make sure everything’s right. Everything goes away, and I just think about dancing.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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Emma Fitzpatrick, 10, of North Yarmouth, will take her talents to the World Irish Dancing Championship next April in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.