The second week of April certainly brought some confusion to Philadelphia residents as thousands of young girls in bouncy wigs and vendors with everything from Celtic t-shirts to Irish sweets descended on the Kimmel Centre of Performing Arts. The 39th Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne, World Irish Dance Championships, was held for the first time in North America at the Kimmel Centre and the Marriott Hotel in downtown Philadelphia.
Over 6,000 dancers came to compete, all of whom qualified after winning top places in regional and national competitions. Dancers from Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, United States, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Germany, Poland, Russia, and South Africa arrived to dance in a variety of categories of competition including solo dances, team dances which included upwards of eight dancers per team, and drama which utilizes dance as a storytelling tool. The dancers competed in several styles based on the pace of the music classified as reels, hornpipes, jigs, slip jigs and traditional dances.
The event attracted over 20,000 fans in addition to dancers. Fans included friends, family and teachers but also a vast number of vendors who sold endless amounts of Irish-themed commodities.
The opening ceremonies on April 5th included a parade of flags representing all countries registered with An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (CLRG), the commission which organizes the competition. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was in attendance.
The World Irish Dance Championships commenced in 1970 in Colaiste Mhuire, Dublin. This year marked the first
departure to North America for the competition. The primary sponsor of the event was Chicago native Michael Flatley, who in 1975 became the first American to secure a World Irish Dance title.