CORNELIUS – In her mere 14 years on this Earth, Amelia Williams has checked off an astonishing number of life goals – earning a black belt in karate, being crowned a pageant queen, and now being recognized as a world-class Irish dancer.
The Hough High School student flew to Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, in April to compete in the World Irish Dancing Championships during her spring break.
Only 1 percent of all Irish dancers are invited to compete in “Worlds.” Contenders earn their spots by placing in the top 10 percent at regional championships. Williams, a Cornelius resident and a student of the Connick School of Irish Dance there, won her spot during the Southern Region Oireachtas (championships) in December.
Williams said it was her dream, as it is for many dancers, to compete on a world stage, and it was a dream deferred for two years when COVID canceled Worlds in 2020 and 2021. But it made the payoff for all her hard work even sweeter when her debut on the world stage of Irish dancing happened on the 50th anniversary of the event.
Leading up to the trip, Williams scaled back her dance training to avoid injury and focused on building stamina, something she says was helped by her participation on the Hough High School track team.
“It’s more a mental thing at this stage,” she said. “You can’t get any better.”
Williams began Irish dance lessons six years ago after she had earned a black belt in karate at only seven years old and was shopping around for her next extracurricular activity.
Her mother, Ros Williams, said her daughter fell in love with the pageantry and details of the performance sport during her first lesson. Her family even built a dance floor in the garage so she could continue dancing while classes met via Zoom at the height of the pandemic.
“I’ve loved all my years of it,” Amelia Williams said. “Every week it’s two hours of doing something I love with friends.”
She said one of the best parts of participating and competing in Irish dance is how it connects her with others across the country and around the globe. She was looking forward to experiencing Belfast with friends she made over many years of traveling to competitions.
“It’s cool to be able to say you know people from all over,” Williams said.
Williams competed in two dances at Worlds, both a hard-shoe and a soft-shoe routine – one where the shoe makes a percussion sound on the floor and one where the shoe makes no sound, like a ballet shoe.
Ros Williams said dance is unlike any other sport in that there is no clear winner because it’s all open to interpretation, so the final placement is of little importance compared to the experience of attending a worldwide competition and building on the friendships that Irish dance has provided.
“At the end of the day, these kids have relationships that they’ll take through their lives,” she said.
Irish dance has already helped Amelia Williams reach other goals. She is the 2022 International United Miss North Carolina Jr. Teen. In achieving that distinction, she won the talent competition, a bonus round, at both the state and international levels of the pageant circuit with her Irish dance routines.
The trip to Worlds also gave the Williams family the opportunity to make a long-awaited visit to Scotland, where Amelia was able to see her grandmother who she hadn’t seen in three years because of COVID travel restrictions.