Shoulders back and chests held stiff, Patrick and Hannah Bradey glided across the dance studio floor last week, their feet moving rapidly between kicks and turns.
"Dance like a champion," instructor Sandra Connick called out in a heavy Irish accent.
The brother and sister duo from Harrisburg are looking to add a few more trophies to their expanding collection next week when they take the stage next week in Glasgow, Scotland for the 2010 World Irish Dancing Championships.
They began dancing about six years ago after Patrick came home from a heritage day event at his elementary school where he saw Irish dancing. He told his mother that he wanted to give it a try because his family had Irish ancestors. Hannah was only 4 years old and Patrick was 9 years old when they began taking lessons.
Now Patrick, 16, and Hannah, 11, are competing internationally
Traditional Irish dancing involves quick and precise foot movements while the upper body is held rigid.
Patrick and Hannah began dancing at the Rince na h'Eireann School of Irish Dance in south Charlotte about two years ago. At rehearsal there last week, Connick looked on as they practiced the routines they'll perform at the world championships.
"Watch that turn, love," Connick yelled over the music as Patrick whirled across the room.
Connick danced as a child in County Cork, Ireland. She moved to the Charlotte area in 1992 and began teaching Irish dance in Charlotte a few years later.
Patrick said some of his friends at Hickory Ridge High School, where he's also on the wrestling team and the marching band's drumline, know about his dancing. Hannah has performed for some of her classmates at Harrisburg Elementary School.
"They always want me to show them something," Hannah said.
Despite their dancing competitiveness, there isn't much sibling rivalry in the Bradey household, said their mother, Gregg Bradey.
"They both equally do well," she said.
Dancing is a huge commitment, Gregg Bradey said as the tapping of heeled shoes thumped across the dance floor.
They typically come to the dance studio about four times a week and sometimes for several hours on Saturdays. They perform in about 20 competitions across the country every year.
They performed in Charlotte's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade last week and several shows and festivals over the past few weeks.
"There's no rest for the Irish in March," Gregg Bradey said, laughing.
Even getting ready for each performance is a time-consuming process, Hannah said. Girls involved in Irish dancing often wear elaborate sleeved dresses with intricate designs. And then there's the hair - tight ringlets that bounce in rhythm with the dancers' steps.
Between the wig she wears over long, blond hair, the dress and the make-up, Hannah said, preparing for a performance is an ordeal.
"It takes about 30 minutes to get the wig on," she said.
Patrick and Hannah both qualified for the world championships at a southern regional competition held in Dallas in December. Hannah competed against about 85 other girls in her age group and finished in the top 12, making her eligible for the championships in Scotland. Patrick finished in third place.
"I was the first number called," Hannah said. "I was shocked."
Patrick and Hannah made it to the world championships last year on teams of dancers. This year, they'll both be dancing solo, and Patrick will also compete with a group of seven other dancers.
"I'm a little nervous," Hannah said.
When they return from the world championships, they'll get right back to dancing. A national competition is scheduled for July.
"If I didn't have dance, my life would just be boring," Hannah said.