WILLIAMSBURG – When Sami Calinan was 5 years old she saw the Irish dance show at Busch Gardens and told her parents, "I want to do that." Eight years of hard work later, she has made it to the Irish dance national championships.
The Hornsby Middle School student listed her Irish heritage as another influence. Her great-grandparents were from Ireland, and her grandparents and father are still connected to the culture.
Calinan takes lessons three times a week that last 2-3 hours, and practices daily in her garage. She said she hopes the music and the sound of her feet on the floor doesn't bother the neighbors.
"I consider myself an athlete," she said. "I cross-train and work out. Most kids my age don't."
This spring Calinan was one of 700 cast members in the Virginia International Tattoo. Anthony Fallon – a four-time world champion and former principal member of "Riverdance" fame – was one of Calinan's coaches.
She began competing at age nine, and is now an open champion – the highest level an Irish dancer can achieve. She competes at least once a month.
"Competing is a lot of fun," Calinan said. "You meet a lot of new people."
Traveling is her favorite part. Competitions take her to Washington D.C., New Orleans, Orlando and more.
She admitted she occasionally gets nervous. "I'm very critical of myself when I dance," she explained. "Sometimes I do get really scared, but usually it's after the dance when I'm nervous about the results."
Despite her worries, the results at southern regionals brought encouraging news: Calinan qualified for nationals. Held in Montreal, nationals included top dancers from the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Calinan placed 58th out of 133. She plans to return next year.
"I loved the atmosphere of it," she said. "I mean... it's nationals!"
As for the future, Calinan said she might like to become a profesional Irish dancer or instructor, though she also wants to have a "regular person job, like a doctor."
Calinan is aiming to place in the top 25 at nationals next year, thus qualifying for the world championships. Despite the lofty goal, she remains practical and level-headed about her rapid advancement.
"If I win, I don't let the results go to my head," she said, "I know how hard I've worked for it."
She cited the importance of technique, footwork and teamwork. "We all work extremely hard at this," she said. "We all cheer each other on."