KINGSTON, R.I. – March 28, 2012 – Mary Catherine Rocca, a freshman at the University of Rhode Island, will compete in the Irish dancing world championships in Belfast next week after winning her regional competition and placing second in the United States this year.
“My mom put me in an Irish dancing class when I was three, and I’ve stuck with it ever since,” said Rocca. “It’s always been a part of my life. I love that I can embrace my heritage and show other people how much I love being Irish.”
A marine biology major from Morganville, N.J., Rocca competes in the senior mixed ceili category – a team of eight performers who dance in synchrony – for those aged 15 and over.
“Team dancing is really challenging because you have to be so in synch with the other seven people and understand exactly what they are doing while you’re focusing on what you’re supposed to be doing,” Rocca explained. “But you get to a point where you know the steps and you know the gist of how the dance is supposed to be, so then it’s a matter of being in shape and maintaining stamina.”
The biggest challenge for Rocca this year has been that she is at URI while the rest of her team is much closer to their homes in New Jersey.
“I’ve commuted back and forth from Rhode Island to New Jersey nearly every weekend since September,” she said, noting that she is considering re-establishing an Irish dancing club at URI. “I’ve sacrificed a lot to be an Irish dancer and to be part of the team I’m on, but it’s all definitely worth it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
The trip to Ireland won’t be Rocca’s first. She has competed in the world championships three times before, finishing in the top 15 in 2011. She has also performed at Carnegie Hall three times, as well as throughout the U.S. and Canada.
The weeklong world championships – officially called Oireachtas Rince Na Cruinne – begin on March 31 and will include 6,000 competitors dancing in several age and performance categories. Rocca’s team will have especially stiff competition.
“I’m in a senior category, so I’ll be competing against dancers who are professionals and have performed in Riverdance and Lord of the Dance and other touring shows,” Rocca said. “Every team that competes is incredibly good, and the best teams win by only fractions of points. It’s all about who does best on that day.”
All of Rocca’s practice will come down to a two-minute performance on April 8, and if her team is rated in the top half of the competition, they will perform one more two-minute dance to determine the winner.
“I definitely feel the pressure, but we’re as ready as we can be,” said Rocca. “And after all our other performances, we’re used to the pressure. We’re all going to have to be extremely focused. And then it’s all about having a good time and leaving it all out on the stage.”
Rocca departs for Ireland this weekend.
Mary Catherine Rocca.
Mary Catherine Rocca with teacher and mentor Peter Smith.
Photos courtesy of Mary Catherine Rocca