ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca High School senior Clara Bennett will travel to Montreal next week, where she hopes to make eyes smile at the Irish Dancing World Championships.
Bennett, who dances at the Carle School of Irish Dance in Johnson City, qualified for the World Championships thanks to a ninth-place finish in the regional competition held in Philadelphia in November. She’ll compete against 2,500 of the world’s best in the genre from April 4-7 in the event, which is her first time to Worlds.
Bennett will be joined by another Carle student, Julia Peters, a freshman in college from Endwell, NY. Peters finished fifth during qualifying in Philadelphia and has been to the World Championships before to compete.
Bennett has been dancing since she was a child, trying out various styles before falling in love with Irish dancing when she was seven years old and sticking with it.
“It originally just started out as a hobby, something I just enjoyed in my free time,” Bennett said. “As I started to compete, I realized it was something that I really wanted to do, that I wanted to be successful in.”
That desire for success has manifested itself into three practices per week, about two hours per session, occasionally more when Bennett is preparing for competition as she has been the last several weeks and before her performance in Philadelphia. That includes practicing hard and soft shoe dances, along with a set-dance that she performed alone on stage in front of the judges after advancing past the first round in regionals.
“It’s pretty scary, but I’ve been working on being confident on stage and that has helped a lot,” Bennett said. “When I was younger, I’d get a lot of stage fright. I realized the thing that’s going to make me dance my best is I just have to really focus on what I have to do. […] I can’t always be at my best, but it’s about how you dance on the day of. My goal for Worlds is to just show up and dance the best that I can, and be happy with that.”
Adding to the adversity is that Bennett has been training through an injured hamstring, an injury she sustained due to wear-and-tear from her Irish dancing practices on top of soccer and track and field. That’s not exactly a new phenomenon for Bennett, who said she has also worked through a stress fracture in her hip previously due to similar factors—a setback that knocked her out of a prior regional competition. She credits working with her strengthening coach to overcome any physical maladies, as well as residual mental fears over reinjury.
“Overcoming injuries has been a big thing that I’ve just had to overcome as a dancer,” Bennett said. “But learning how to deal with challenges in dance has helped me overall. I’ve learned a lot of values that I carry from dance, like work ethic, resilience, my positivity. All that I’ve learned from dance.”
Another thing Bennett has learned: A good old-fashioned pre-competition ritual.
“I always eat the same thing before I dance,” she said. “Plain pancakes and a V8 bubbly energy drink.”