One year ago, prize-winning stepdancer Julia O’Rourke, 15, of Malverne, a freshman at Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girls high school in Hempstead, walked away from the Irish Dance World Championships in London with a game-changing injury and without reclaiming her first place title. After another year of intensive training, O’Rourke once again took home the large silver trophy — this time as a two-time world champ — from this year’s tournament on April 15.
O’Rourke, who initially earned the title back in 2010, placed first out of nearly 200 other dancers at the weeklong championship, which involved many rounds of group dancing earlier in the week before narrowing down the competition in those final days.
As a student of the Doherty-Petri School of Irish Dancing in Franklin Square — formerly the Petri School before merging with its sister school, Doherty School of Irish Dancing, in Belfast last summer — O’Rourke said she regularly practices for yearly competitions, but begins rigorous training about a month before. When preparing for this year’s world championship, O’Rourke said she practiced at the Doherty School’s studio for two days until 9 p.m. each night.
“When I’m practicing, I think of all the specific things I have to do, but I have to practice it so that it looks natural on stage,” she told the Herald before heading to Worlds last month. “I don’t have time to think about it on stage because I’m too busy smiling.”
O’Rourke placed second at last year’s Great Britain Championships and All Ireland’s Competition in Belfast, Ireland and competed at the All Scotland’s Competition in February, the Irish stepdancing regional competition last November.
Though she faced some difficulty while training last summer, recovering from a back injury that hurt her performance at the stepdancing world championships earlier that year. Taking a year off from dancing, O’Rourke said she vigorously practiced to bounce back as a major competitor in time for the Great Britain Championships and All Ireland’s Competition.
To regain her title at the world championship, O’Rourke said she worked through the pain by building strength with her mind more than her legs.
“I didn’t have any expectations of my dancing, so I wasn’t that nervous,” she said about taking the Worlds stage one year after losing from her injury.
Before a new tournament season begins, O’Rourke said she plans to dance in a series of local feisanna, or minor Irish dance competitions, in the coming weeks to stay at the top of her game for the national championship.