Irish dancing comes naturally to Stoke teenager Jaymee-Niamh Smith.
The 15-year-old with Irish heritage has only been dancing for two-and-a-half years, but she is already taking on the world.
Jaymee-Niamh returned from the WIDA (World Irish Dance Association) Melbourne Open Feis last month with an impressive eight gold medals and two trophies.
Nicknamed ‘The Unicorn Feis’, the open platform competition is for all Irish dancers in Australia and beyond – and Jaymee-Niamh was the only representative from New Zealand.
Primary horn pipe, slip jig, light jig, single jig and treble jig are just some of the titles she conquered, and she also earned two distinctions in her dancing exams while she was there.
“I was really happy. I didn’t know what I was going to be up against, so I was nervous,” she says. “But it was nice meeting everyone and I was invited onto a six-hour dance workshop which I really enjoyed. It was a good experience.”
Up until the competition, Jaymee-Niamh’s Irish dance teacher was Lucy Moignard at Astar Academy who trained and coached her for her Irish dance exams. She has since moved back to the UK.
According to her grandfather and biggest fan, Chris Arnold, who accompanied her to the competition, she is a “natural” at it and has the dedication to go far.
The Nayland College student says it was her older cousin who inspired her to pick up Irish dancing.
“I tried it for a bit when I was younger, but I was never really interested in it. But my cousin was dancing, and I thought it would be fun to start again. It just carried on from there.”
Jaimee-Niamh trains up to four hours a week and admits to also “dancing under the desk” at school.
She says at shows, dancers are required to wear a full face of make-up, including dark foundation and red lipstick. Some must wear wigs, but luckily Jaymee-Niamh has been naturally blessed with the “right hair”.
Her Irish roots go back to when her great-great-great grandfather immigrated to New Zealand from Ireland in 1842.
She says she enjoys learning about the culture and plays Irish music on the piano and guitar. “Dancing is also a good way to keep fit. I like the cool steps you get to do and watching people’s faces when I’m performing – making them feel blown away.”
Jaimee-Niamh is hoping to earn a scholarship to represent New Zealand at the next Irish Dancing World Championships in Ireland.
“My goals are to go to worlds, be in Lord of the Dance and maybe open my own studio one day.”