CHAMPAIGN — After 14 years of Irish dancing, Allie Hartlein knows it's a lot more than tricky footwork and a challenge to learn.
She has seen Irish dancing foster discipline, good sportsmanship and other valuable lessons for kids.
"They cheer for each other, even though they compete against each other," she said.
The first-ever Irish dance competition in this area of the state is coming to Champaign today, said Hartlein, the instructor at Shamrock Academy of Irish Dance in Mahomet.
The academy is hosting the competition. It will begin at 9 a.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn, 1501 S. Neil St., C, and wrap up about 8 p.m.
Doors will open at 8:15 a.m., and tickets are $5. Spectators can come and go as they like, Hartlein said. The competition will start with beginners and feature progressively more advanced dancers as the day and evening progress.
The competition is also serving as a qualifier for a national championship taking place in Nashville next February, Hartlein said.
The Mahomet academy already has eight students qualified for that national competition and hopes to get three more qualified today, she said.
Some of the dancers will also be striving to move up in levels of Irish dance. Plus, there will be several gold medal winners competing for best of the best, Hartlein said.
In all, there will be nearly 100 dancers in this competition from Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, Ohio and Minnesota, plus some coming from Canada, according to Hartlein. About 30 of the competitors are children and teens who study at the Shamrock Academy.
Irish dance, a traditional dance form from Ireland, isn't easy to learn, Hartlein said.
"But I always tell my kids, if it was easy, it wouldn't be Irish dancing, when they complain to me," she said.
Spectators attending today will see Irish dance in both soft-shoe and hard-shoe forms, Hartlein said.
"The hard shoe is kind like a tap shoe, and that is what's famous for Irish dancing," she said. "It makes a lot of noise, and it's all about a lot of fast footwork."
A University of Illinois senior math major, Hartlein has been doing Irish dance since age 7 and formerly competed herself. She was in Ireland last summer and is returning in January as part of the process of becoming certified as an Irish dance instructor, she said.
Hartlein started the Irish dance program in Mahomet two years ago with six students enrolled the first year, and the program has grown to nearly 60 students, she said. She offers instruction for kids and adults. Kids can start as young as age 3.