Stepping between worlds

Twins challenge each other to be the best

Provided by MHS Red Productions

Provided by Carly & Hayley Mangan

Accepting trophies

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For most athletes, trying to balance schoolwork with three-hour practices and a 10-minute commute home is difficult enough. However, senior twins Carly and Hayley Mangan travel 45 minutes each way to practice at their Irish step dance school in Montville, CT.

They make the commute four to five days a week. “It’s a lot,” said Hayley. “We go to swim practice after school, and from there we have to go straight to dance. There is no in between. On a daily basis we come home at around 11:00 [at night]. We compete almost every weekend.”

Both girls compete at the Open Championship level, the highest level an Irish step dancer can obtain. A commonly held goal of girls at the Open Championship level is to qualify for the Worlds, which is like the Olympics of Irish dance.

At the most recent New England Oireachtas — a prestigious regional Irish step competition — Carly placed 13th and qualified for the 2016 Worlds. It is the first time that she has qualified to compete on the World stage. Hayley is one of the top 20 dancers in New England. She qualified for the National Competition, at which she hopes to follow her sister in qualifying for the Worlds in 2016.

The Irish step dance path has not always been easy. Two summers ago at Nationals, Hayley broke her hip onstage in the middle of her dance, right before Carly was scheduled to go on.

“I wasn’t in the room when Hayley broke her hip,” said Carly. “I was warming up in the hall getting ready to go, and I come into the room and this girl was like ‘Did you see what happened to Hayley?’ and I went backstage and she was sitting in a chair, broken. I was waiting in line backstage bawling my eyes out… but I still pulled it together. We had to make the trip [to California] worth it. And that’s the year I got 27th.”

When I came back I had to teach myself how to do everything again,because it’s all muscle memory.”

— Hayley

Recovery was a slow process, and coming back after being out for so long was no easy task, especially to dance at the same level she was at before.

“When I came back I had to teach myself how to do everything again because it’s all muscle memory,” said Hayley. “When I went to regionals, I just wasn’t the dancer that I was before – I had to work extra hard to get back to that.”

The level of physical fitness required to be a successful Irish dancer is extraordinarily high.

“My dance teacher’s favorite word is ‘again,’ ” said Hayley. “Because when you’re practicing something you do it over and over again, until it’s perfect. It’s ruthless to be sore, and your muscles are tired, but you keep going.”

Their family is very supportive of their dedication to the sport, and their dad even built them a dance studio in their house.

“When we have days off, I’ll go upstairs and practice,” Hayley said. “We practice usually everyday, although I take one day off per week, except coming up to a major competition.”

It’s hard love. That’s how we push each other.”

— Carly

Reaching the Open Championship level was difficult because of issues at their first school. Being twins, there was always another person to practice with, but being twins also hindered their promotion to the Open Championship level.

“At our old dance school, [our teacher] thought it would be difficult for us to compete against each other,” said Hayley. “I was in the Preliminary Champion Level and Carly was already in Open because I had a leg injury so I was out for awhile. I was getting close to being able to move up and my teacher was nervous to put me up because she was afraid of us having to compete against each other. But it was never an issue with us, we support one another.”

Their new teacher at Santacroce School of Irish Dance likes to use their competitiveness as a motivating factor.

“If I don’t put it all out, Hayley will be like, ‘You’re wasting the entire class’s time,’ ” Carly said. “It’s hard love. That’s how we push each other.”

The girls started dancing at age 5. They were inspired to do Irish step by their heritage. Before they wanted to be Irish step dancers, they wanted to be ballerinas. However, their mom wanted them to Irish step dance, and took them to a competition where they fell in love with the sport. They have never regretted letting go of their ballet dream.

“That dream was so lame,” joked Hayley. “The strength that it takes to do this, it’s hard. Irish dancing is so hard. For me, with all my injuries, I’ve had to start over so many times. I’m injured right now, and I’m going to be out for four to six weeks, and I’m going to have to come back from an injury all over again. It teaches you. I won’t give up, until I can go to Worlds and compete. I want to get a World Medal, which is the top 20 in the world.”

If you come from a big school, just because you have this amazing teacher, you could do really well just because of who you are. Us, from a small school, we don’t get favors from judges.”

— Hayley

As for their plans after high school, the girls want to attend the same college and room together, potentially within relatively easy traveling distance to their current dance school.

Carly wants to go to school for elementary education, which she says teaching dance lessons to the younger kids has inspired her to do. Hayley hopes to get a business degree so she can open her own Irish dance school, and is planning on getting her TCRG (Irish step dance teaching requirement) so she can teach dance. She also expressed an interest in doing an Irish dance show, such as Riverdance or Heartbeat of Home.

Both girls plan on participating in Irish step during and beyond college through their dance school because there is not collegiate level Irish step dancing in the United States.

One frustration the girls have with the Irish step dance system is the politics. “Irish dancing is very political,” Hayley said. “If you come from a big school, just because you have this amazing teacher, and you might not be that great, you could still do really well just because of who you are. Us, from a small school, we don’t get favors from judges.”

At competitions, girls do three dances. The first round is hardshoe, the second round is soft shoe, and then judges recall half of the people back to do a third dance which is danced alone, unlike the first round.

“You dance with another girl you don’t know from a different school, could be from a different country, and you all dance to the same music, and so when you walk out on stage, you want to have the best hair, the best dress, because you want to be looked at,” Hayley said. “The judges are going to just weigh, ‘Who am I going to watch first?’ And you want them to watch you first.”

As if all of their achievements in Irish step weren’t enough, the Mangan twins also have an Instagram fan page made by a ten year-old girl at their studio, showing just how much the younger girls look up to the twins, in the same way the twins look up to the World Champions.

“I’ll watch videos of people dancing and see ‘oh, that’s how they do that,’” Hayley said, “and I’ll try to do it like that to get better and better.”