Alana Hodgson and Grace Stones, Year 12 and 10 students at Richmond School and Sixth Form College, have danced their way to the top to qualify for the Irish Dancing World Championships.

Both students have been dancing since they were five years old, and from this early age committed to training three times per week, quickly moving up the ranks in the Irish Dancing competitive world. Neither Alana, 17, nor Grace, 15, are strangers to dancing at an international level, they have each qualified for six world championships and been to four of them in Belfast, Dublin, Glasgow and Montreal over the last six years.  The 2019 championships will be hosted in North Carolina.

Recognised as the Olympics of Irish dancing, which has run for over fifty years, the world championships are organised by An Coimisiun Le Rinci Gaelacha, the Dublin-based Dancing Commission and the largest and oldest governing body for competitive Irish step dancing globally.

Alana comments: ”I’m thrilled that I’ve qualified for the world championships for the sixth time. I’m so excited that I get the chance to compete in North Carolina at a prestigious competition and get to see my friends from all over the world-which is one of the many reasons I love Irish dancing. Although I’ll be competing in solos, I’ll have my dance school there supporting me and the other 7 world qualifiers we have this year! Grace goes on to say: “I really enjoy travelling and meeting new people who all enjoy dance.”

Grace attends an Irish Dancing school in Newcastle and dances in the Under 16 class, taking part in competitions all over the country.  Alana trains with the Phoenix Academy of Irish Dance, with classes in both Leyburn and Rochdale. She is a regular competitor in the Under 17 class at events across the UK.

Irish Dancing is a very physical sport and demands great stamina, balance, poise and grace. It is characterised by a controlled upper body, straight arms and precise movements of the feet. It comes as no surprise that Alana and Grace not only excel in this style but are also exceptional at ballet, having trained with the School of Theatre Dance in Reeth.   Janet Seymour says: “”Alana has danced with me since she was three and has always said how much her ballet training has improved her Irish dancing and because of this, Grace began to study ballet at the School of Theatre Dance in 2012 until 2015 when she moved away from the area. Both girls gained high marks in all of their ballet exams with the Royal Academy of Dance, Alana gaining her Intermediate ballet at a young age. It is lovely to see how successful they are with their Irish Dancing.”

Irish Dancing witnessed a huge surge in popularity in the 1990s, following the success of Riverdance, where the audience really connect to the music and rhythm, and this has led to a sustained interest across the globe.  Irish dancers are distinguished by their costumes, the beautiful, colourful, embroidered dresses feature intricate designs that are synonymous with the stunning burst of colour when the dancers are performing.

Danni Fox, Lead Teacher of Dance at Richmond School, comments: “”Alana and Grace are great assets to our Dance department and consistently show commitment, discipline and complete professionalism in their dance training. Alana completed her GCSE Dance course last year and achieved a grade 8 overall, which reflects her fantastic work ethic and enthusiasm for the subject. Grace is studying towards her final GCSE dance exams and is thriving. Her creativity and desire to improve shines through in every lesson. She is always keen to challenge herself and her peers to attain the best-possible results in her technique and performance – a true professional!”