Phil Brady has seen his share of strong Irish dancers over the years, but Ceilidh Eckton has something unique out of all of them.
The Glenelm resident, 12, is the youngest Irish dancer from Manitoba to ever qualify for the World Irish Dancing Championships, which will take place in Boston from March 24 to 31.
Eckton, who trains under Brady at the Brady School of Irish Dance in Roblin Park, qualified for worlds with a sixth-place finish at the Western Canadian event in Calgary in November, as the top eight all punched a ticket to the Massachusetts capital. As well, the top half of competitors made it to the North American Championships in Anaheim, Calif. this July, where she’ll be joined by seven-year-old sister Cliodna.
Brady said as a dancer, Eckton has similar strengths to legendary Russian ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov.
"(She’s) very powerful in the air," said Brady, who won the world championship in his age group 30 years ago. "She’s kind of like Michael Jordan in the air, but a dancer."
Eckton began dancing at the age of five, as she was inspired by older brother Conaill.
"I watched him for a while and I wanted to do it," she said. "I just tried to copy off of him."
Eckton’s most recent showing at the Western Canadian Championships was her third time competing at the event. She said she felt more comfortable on a big stage this time around, with Brady observing she’s improved most in her hard-shoe dancing, as she’s more of a natural soft-shoe performer. In competition, dancers perform once in each type of shoe, and then hope to perform a third time in the recall round.
"I wasn’t practicing enough. I noticed that a lot," she said.
"The placement of your feet is a very big thing," added Brady. "It’s not like tap dancing where your feet are freestanding and just make the beats. In Irish dancing, the feet need to be in a certain position the entire dance, and that’s been a big thing she needed to work on."
To get ready for Boston, Eckton is practicing at least two hours a day on her own and then attending two hours of classes each night to gain strength and stamina while reinforcing posture, placement, and poise.
"I want to go and see what my placement is so that I know how improve for next year if I get to go to worlds next year," she said. "Every dancer’s dream is to win the worlds.
"I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but I want it to happen."