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World champion Irish dancer retires, enjoys her senior prom

Julia O'Rourke, 18, celebrated her fourth World Irish

Julia O'Rourke, 18, celebrated her fourth World Irish Dancing Championship title at Sacred Heart Academy's senior prom, held at Woodbury Country Club on June 1, 2017. Credit: Jennifer A. Uihlein

Julia O’Rourke was 5 years old when she figured out what she wanted to be. While sitting in her kindergarten class, a classmate -- one of her best friends at the time -- got up in front of the room for show-and-tell.

Her talent? Irish step dance. She performed for her class, and O’Rourke was captivated.

“I went to my mom that night and I was like, ‘Please sign me up for Irish dancing,’” she said. “She signed me up to the closest school, and I’ve been at that school since then.”

The Doherty Petri School of Irish Dancing in Garden City Park became another place for O’Rourke to learn and grow, in addition to full school days at Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead. A typical weekday for O’Rourke would include about seven and a half hours in classes, and two to three hours in the studio. But on the weekends, O'Rourke said she’d be dancing for up to seven hours at times.

“It’s tough, but it’s worth it in the end, obviously,” said O’Rourke, 18, who earned her fourth World Irish Dancing Championships title in April in Dublin, Ireland.

She’s won six national titles as well. But at her senior prom, which was held at Woodbury Country Club on Thursday, she said she’s officially retired.

“I’m going to college, so it’s just going to get harder with my college schedule,” she said. “And I would have to practice by myself, which would be so much harder than going to class every night with my teachers. So I was like, 'If I win this worlds [competition], I might as well end on top.'”

After traveling all over in the world in her dance career, O’Rourke will leave Long Island once again this fall. She will attend the University of Delaware and plans to study physical therapy.

O’Rourke joked that she wouldn’t be able to perform any Irish dancing during the prom celebration in her sparkly silver heels.

“I remember when I first started, I couldn’t hit a shuffle or I couldn’t hit my clicks, and I would get so frustrated,” she said. “My mom has videos of me crying on my couch. But you’ll get the hang of it eventually, and if you put in the work, you can do it.”

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