At The New Century, we are getting dangerously excited about our upcoming BIG show, The BIG Reel (No. 1), on Saturday August 24th!  As we approach the big date, we wanted to share the stories of the dancers and musicians we will feature in the show. First up, we interview the fabulous Caitlin Ward!

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Born and raised in Orange County, California, Caitlin began dancing at the age of 12 with the Aniar Academy of Irish Dance after receiving a videotape of Riverdance for Christmas and begging her mom to find an Irish dance studio. She immediately fell in love with the music, the rhythms, and the gracefulness of Irish dance, as well as the opportunity to celebrate her Irish heritage.  She then went on to compete regularly in local, regional, and national competitions, taking home 7th in the Western United States regional competition at the age of 16.  After taking a several-year hiatus from dance upon leaving for college and then moving to Washington, DC, she now dances with the Culkin School of Traditional Irish Dance in Silver Spring, Maryland. Caitlin joined The New Century in March 2012 and could not imagine her life without Irish dance now. "When I wasn't dancing, I always felt like something was missing from my life," she says. "I missed the joy of the music, the beauty of Irish dance, and the incredible rush from performing in front of a crowd. Every time I dance, I feel like I'm coming home again."

Q: Caitlin, tell us about your best moment on stage!

CW: My favorite moment onstage was during college, when I had a small solo in a folk dance performance. I was invited to come onstage and do a few minutes of hardshoe, and unfortunately when I walked out for my solo, I could see the audience was looking a little...weary. It seemed they hadn't been so impressed with the previous performances, so I thought to myself "ok Caitlin, go knock their socks off." I started dancing and I could see people sitting straighter in their chairs. Then they started clapping... and cheering... and now people were standing up in their seats!  By the time I finished my solo, the whole audience was engaged and hooting and hollering, thoroughly enjoying themselves. I'll never forget that adrenaline rush.

Q: You are one of the most fit people we know, what other types of exercise do you do to prepare for a performance?

CW: Irish dancing is largely a lower-body exercise but I believe it is important to exercise your whole body to stay fit and strong.  Irish dance takes a lot of endurance and strength because each dance is basically three minutes of non-stop, intensely draining movement, so to work on endurance I ride the elliptical, run, and bike ride.  I also swim and play on a recreational softball team. Weight training is also a big part of my regimen.  You've got to keep your legs, core, and upper body strong, so I regularly hit the gym to lift free weights and use the machines.  I do all of this not only to keep me ready for Irish dance performances but also because exercise mentally, physically, and emotionally restores me. I always feel better after a workout, and eating clean and staying in shape are two important parts of a healthy, happy lifestyle.

Q: The world wants to know, how did you learn how to dance with your arms at your side?

CW: When I was younger, my teachers would tell me to roll my shoulders back, keep them relaxed on my spine, and focus on using my stomach muscles to keep my posture straight while leaping so I wouldn't use my arms for leverage. They also instructed me to hold on to my shorts or pants while dancing to keep my hands in line. That was a particularly effective exercise because I physically couldn't lift them and had to get used to keeping them straight and relaxed without hunching my shoulders.

Q: Thanks, Caitlin!

CW: Thank you!

Stay tuned for more features on our dancers and musicians! And don’t forget to save the date for The Big Reel (No. 1) on Saturday, August 24th from 7pm at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Silver Spring, Maryland!

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