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'The Big Jig' TLC special showcases Malverne's Julia O'Rourke

Julia O'Rourke and Marina Flatley-Griffin pose in this

Julia O'Rourke and Marina Flatley-Griffin pose in this undated photo at the World Irish Dancing Championships. Credit: TLC

It's a long way to Tipperary, yet Kevin O'Rourke's parents still made it to America from that town and from one in County Louth. Through the vagaries of the immigrant experience, their son, an accountant, wound up in New Jersey, where he met a Filipino fellow accountant named Annelyn. They married, moved to Malverne, and now their daughter travels to Ireland -- and England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Canada -- as a child-champion dancer of Irish jigs.

Now that wee colleen, Julia O'Rourke, is stepping out in "The Big Jig," a TLC special (Tuesday night at 10) following her and four other girls as they train for and compete in the 2012 World Irish Dance Championships, the 42nd annual competition of the Irish Dance Commission, An Coimisiun Le Rinci Gaelacha, held in Belfast from March 31 to April 8.

Julia, an eighth-grader at St. Agnes Cathedral School in Rockville Centre, is a veteran at age 13, having started dancing at 5 and competing at 7. She's won first place in her various age divisions over a half-dozen times since then. She's also no stranger to the screen, having starred in the 2011 theatrical documentary "Jig," about the 40th World Irish Dance Championships.

Like any dancer, she's had to hoof it through pain. "I've broken my foot a lot of times," she says. "Stress fractures. I go to a gym and I get physical therapy. I know physical therapy helps, and I think the gym helps."

The world championships this past spring marked Julia's first major competition since her most recent injury, says her mother, who explains, "She broke her second metatarsal and bruised two parts of another metatarsal. She had already recovered" in time for the championships, but she's only just now "almost 100 percent."

Julia -- who like her fellow competitors at championship level specifically dances reels and slip jigs -- says that even after so many years, it takes concentration and isn't second nature to keep your arms rigid by your side, as traditional Irish dance requires. "It's still kind of hard for me," she confesses. "What we do in class" at the Petri School of Irish Dancing in Franklin Square "is, we get a slip of paper and you put it between your arms and body and hold it there while you're dancing. So that's how you practice that."

So how'd she do in Belfast? Like this summer's Olympics, it's probably more fun to watch than to look it up.

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