Thursday, March 21, 2002

Youthful steps lead to Scotland

Published in the Current

A Scarborough seventh-grader is on his way to the World Irish Step Dancing Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, this week. Alexander Schelasin, 12, is taking his first trip to Europe for the competition, in which his biggest triumph, according to his mother, will be not making any mistakes.

But his challenge up until now has been to practice hard while entertaining a growing number of media interviews, including one with the Current. He has been on television twice, the radio once and in the local section of the Portland daily.

“I’m not used to all the attention, but it’s really cool,” Schelasin said.

His mother, Jacqueline Seguin, said the moment an article ran in the Portland Press Herald, the media frenzy began. “That day, the phone started ringing,” she said.

He deserves the attention he gets in Maine, but getting this much press in Scotland is unlikely. He’s largely unknown in the Irish dancing world, and his teacher isn’t well known either, Seguin said.

The Irish dancing world is an intensely competitive one, with parents spending hundreds of dollars and kids dozens of hours to perfect their technique. Teachers, like martial arts instructors, can trace their instructors back several generations. And competition judges are often related not only to the teachers, but to the dancers themselves.

In Ireland, kids start dancing very early and are sent to intensive dance schools and camps to improve their skills. The dancing itself is demanding, requiring a ramrod-straight upper body and stiff arms above rapidly moving legs and fast-tapping feet.

Dancers are judged on such diverse criteria as the sound their feet make, posture, complexity of the steps they do and fluidity of movement.

Schelasin has been dancing for just over four years, since he saw “Riverdance” and “The Lord of the Dance.”

He has performed on stage with Cape Breton fiddler, Natalie MacMaster, and one of the dances he will perform at the worlds was choreographed for him by a member of the original production of “The Lord of the Dance.”

When he dances, his whole body is tense but somehow relaxed at the same time. And while his head barely moves up and down, his feet kick above his waist, and then hit the ground in rapid staccato.

Schelasin’s success so far is due to his dedication and to his skill on stage. “He’s just a performer in every way,” Seguin said. But he’s not just a dancer.

“I play almost any sport you can name,” Schelasin said, listing an impressive array of team and individual athletics.

He dances both solo and in group step dances, and will be competing as an individual in Glasgow. His mother, who will be accompanying him, hopes they will be able to visit her grandfather’s birthplace near Glasgow.

He has another teacher helping him now, Karen LaPointe, who has just moved to the area from Australia, where she was a world-class Irish dancer as well.

After placing third in the New England championships in November, he has been preparing for the worlds. And after he returns from Scotland, he has to start learning new steps for the North American competition, to be held in Boston in early July.