Flying feet

Updated: 2013-03-15 07:56

By Mike Peters (China Daily)

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 Flying feet

Erin (left) and her elder brother Christy Jensen are superkids with a great attitude and love for Irish Dance. Photos provided to China Daily

Christy and Erin Jensen have jigged their way across much of the globe as competitive Irish dancers and now amaze Chinese audiences

If you want an expert at making loud sounds, just look for your average boy. At that age, toy guns are cool, and shooting fireworks is probably as close to heaven as it gets. But 14-year-old Christy Jensen is not your average teen. He can create what sounds like a volley of machine-gun fire - and often does - simply by getting out on stage and letting his feet fly.

Christy and his 12-year-old sister, Erin, are competitive Irish dancers, and at this time of year their schedule is packed. That's the case even though they now live in Beijing, where "faith-and-begorrah" is seldom heard.

While their dances are Irish, the young twosome doesn't claim that they bleed green, as the saying goes.

"We are originally from the UK," says their dad, Mike Jensen, who recently retired from the oil-and-gas industry. "The kids were born in the Netherlands, and we lived in Houston, Texas for four years before moving here. That's the oil business."

His wife Moira still works for Royal Dutch Shell, which sent the family to Beijing almost three years ago.

But if the youngsters weren't born on the Auld Sod, they adopted that country's famous footwork at a very young age.

"We were watching this amazing show on TV in the Netherlands," says Christy. The amazers were a squad of professional Irish dancers, and the amazees - then 6 and 4 years old - were tapping their shoes on the floor before the program was over. A year later, they were high-kicking a jig in their first festival.

By the time they got to Texas, the family was committed enough to be eyeing the major competitions.

"In America, you can do more," Erin says, noting that Irish culture is well-known and well-established there. Even so, their mom Moira had to shop a bit for a teacher who could take the kids to the next level. In the end, she wound up taking Christy and Erin to San Antonio for lessons nearly every weekend, about a three-hour drive.

A restless life for school-age youngsters? The brother and sister shrug off that notion. They seem unfazed, in fact, by their schedule since January: Spring Festival shows twice a day Feb 10-15, a competition in Shanghai, the Irish ball in Beijing on March 16, and then off to Boston for world championships starting on March 22.

"We've traveled a lot," says Christy, "so we're used to catching up quickly in school when we have to." Also, he says, since competitions include categories for youth beginning with "under 4", they are generally scheduled over Western holidays so that kids can participate without missing too many classes.

The Jensens may hope to take the stage with Riverdance one day, but if so they are quiet about such a goal.

"Our ambition is to get to the recall round," says Christy of the imminent world championship. To reach that rung on the ladder, they must perform well enough in the open round's two dances, one in hard shoes and one in soft. They will be among thousands taking the stage in turn in Boston, and once the judges have licked their pencils and marked their score sheets, about 50 boys and 200 girls in each age bracket will be waiting breathlessly for "recall".

Besides dividing the competition by age, a bracket for each year, there are solos and ceali (a group of four to six dancers). Because Christy and Erin are two years apart, they never compete in the same bracket.

But before all that, they spent a weekend in Shanghai recently at the first internationally recognized Irish dance competition in China. It featured a lot of beginners, but the Jensens still found it quite exciting - globetrotters like themselves naturally identify with the dance scene where they live. (In world competitions the entrants register based on the location of their "home dance school". At the moment, that makes Christy and Erin "Americans"). In Beijing they are continuing lessons - by video - with their longtime teacher Sean Kilkenny in The Hague.

In exhibitions, they always perform as a duo, but they are not painstakingly alike. Erin is quieter on stage.

And while they both remember Houston fondly for its food, Christy says "Steak!" while Erin says "Seafood!" when asked for their best memories. They are big fans of the famous barbecue restaurant Goode Company in Houston, which serves both of their favorite foods.

And while a world championship has eluded them so far, they've danced in lofty company. In Beijing this year, they appeared at the Chaoyang Park International Spring Festival - where Ireland was the country of honor - on stage with four champion dancers who now perform with Kealan McCluskey's troupe Jig: The Story of Irish Dance.

"They are really super kids with a great attitude and love for Irish Dance. It was a pleasure to have them perform as part of the Jig team," says the group's choreographer, champion dancer Sean O'Brien.

Who knows? By the next time they all meet, there could be six champions up on the boards.

That would make some joyful noise.

(China Daily 03/15/2013 page21)