Irish dancing nationals for all cultures, including Māori

By Wepiha Te Kanawa

A Ngāti Porou Irish dancer is looking to defend her title at the National Irish Dancing Championships which kicked off in Auckland today.  Nearly 200 dancers are competing at today's competition.

It could be mistaken for a beauty pageant at first glance, but in fact it's New Zealand's Traditional Irish Dancing Nationals.

Leanne Doyle from TIDA NZ says, "Irish Dancing has been in New Zealand since the early 50s competitively and probably earlier than that, but competitively we've got trophies that go back to the early 50s."

But the dance has come a long way since then, from their big hair to their colourful dresses. 

Former dancer Ciara Chester-Cronin explains, "There's the wigs that are hundreds of dollars, they've got tiaras on top of that as well.  Then they've got the make-up, the tan and everything else."

"The dresses will average to be about $2,000 - $3,000, it really depends, but with the bling that you will see on them today that's probably the most expensive part of it," adds Chester-Cronin.

Ngāti Porou dancer Brooke Elliott-Forster has been dancing for seven years and is the current under 10 NZ girls champ.  This morning she hit the stage. 

She says, "I think I did really well for my first dance, and being the first competitor on you really has a lot of pressure, so I think I did alright."

Ngāti Maniapoto dancer Tiana West was pleased with her performance saying, "I think I did quite well at the end and everyone was cheering at the end and it made you feel really good."

Despite TIDA NZ being a traditional Irish competition, organisers say there has been a huge influx of cultures.

Doyle says, "When I was growing up we did it because our parents were Irish, they had immigrated in.  But now kids come from wherever, they've seen the videos, they've seen stuff online, they've seen the shows and they just want to dance."

Today, the juniors take to the stage.  Tomorrow, the adults will showcase their skills.