Morden teenager Luke Prusina traveled to Pittsburgh last weekend to compete in the CRN North American Open Irish Dance National Championships.

The grade 9 student at Morden Collegiate Institute came home with a trophy for 1st place in the U18 category.

"It felt pretty good. Now I’ve got to learn a lot more dances," said Prusina with a smirk "I guess that's OK."

The fleet-footed dancer describes how the competition is set up.

"There are different age categories. It's kind of like hockey, but everybody's there, it's not just one age group. There were 3 stages, 3 judges -- it was a little scary, but it was fun."

This year's nationals drew 197 competitors from 17 dance schools in the United States, Canada and even Ireland. 


Luke Prusina and his instructor/mom, Cathy Savage.Luke Prusina and his instructor/mom, Cathy Savage.

"It's kind of neat," said Cathy Savage, Luke's instructor - and mom. "It's mostly dance schools from the southern states. We've been to the Nationals three times now. Our first time was in Minneapolis, last year we were in Ohio and now Pittsburgh. This was one of the bigger competitions, so it was really, really neat to be a part of."

A total of 3 dancers from Morden went to Pittsburgh said Savage.

"That was really good for our community. Eva placed 2nd in her ward, Ella placed 8th in hers, so that was really good. They had stiff competition as well."

With 14 years of dance instruction under her belt, Savage takes a lot of pride in her students.

"These kids work really hard all year and they've been working extra hard to go to Pittsburgh and do the nationals. As their teacher, you're super proud of them. You see them start leveling out of their dances and moving up the level. A huge accomplishment for these kids and it's just nice to be on the path with them."

Prusina discovered his love of dancing at the largest and longest-running multicultural festival of its kind in the world. 

"I went to Folklorama in Winnipeg and got called up to do this broom dance thing.  And then I was like, whoa, I'm actually good at this! I'm gonna try Irish!"

As for having your mother as an instructor?

"It's super fun," said Prusina with a grin. "We always tease each other when we mess up."

Mom says it's totally nerve-wracking watching her son compete.

"It's your child, right? You want all the kids in the group to do so well. For Luke this was a cutthroat one. He needed to win this to get out of this level. It's gut-wrenching watching your students when you know they're fully capable of doing it and they should be out of this level. But they just have to dance it clean without a mistake. That's the hard part."

Despite those maternal nerves, Savage describes the quick-moving competition as a great learning experience for everyone involved.
"It's great exposure for the kids who do go because there's so many dancers from all sorts of different schools, and for me as a teacher as well. I sit there with my pen and paper, and I watch how all the other dancers are dancing. You're watching their style and the way they move and it's like, ohh, should we be doing that? Could we change our dance to that? It's a huge learning curve for all of us who go. That's one of the biggest things about going to a big competition like this."

During the competition, an instructor from Ireland came up to Savage and told her, 'Oh my goodness! They're doing amazing! Keep up what you're doing, keep working at it!"

It amazing to see what these kids have accomplished through dance adds Savage.

"Considering we dance one day a week for 2.5 hours and they're dancing against kids who dance 4 nights a week for 3 hours per night. They're all brilliant at it!"

Prusina can name 2 keys to winning at this level: stay on your toes and listen to your teacher.