Dancer ranks worldwide
After his first time watching "Lord of the Dance," junior Kelcey Steele made a bold promise to his four-year-old self: he would pursue his Broadway-inspired Irish dancing dreams as long as possible.
For Steele, now a junior at Miami, that childlike perspective never drifted too far away. His silver watch is adorned with the familiar face of Mickey Mouse and tunes from the Lion King soundtrack often play on his iPod.
But as one of the best Irish dancers in the world, Steele has grown to mean business.
Steele traveled to London for the World Irish Dance Championship two weeks ago and placed third - a feat16 years in the making.
Previously he placed seventh; however, Steele set his expectations lower this time around.
"I went into it knowing I didn't have many collegiate competitions left so I just wanted to have fun and was shooting for maybe top 10," he said.
When he came off stage, Steele was less than thrilled with his performance.
"I thought I was doing terrible; I thought I could've done a lot better," he said.
So when he heard the positive results, his thoughts turned to the countless hours spent driving to Cincinnati, the exhaustive workouts and the sacrificing of any semblance of a social life for the last semester. In an instant, it was all worth it.
"It was kind of an out-of-body experience; I just started crying," he said. "It's weird and oddly satisfying when you do well."
His success did not come easily.
When Steele stepped onto Miami's campus with a double major and a slew of activities to juggle, that youthful promise became harder and harder to keep.
"I came to college and I gained 30 pounds," he said. "It was rough."
He continued dancing and competing, but would often question his motives, especially when he was not getting the desired results. He drove to Cincinnati five times a week to practice at the McGing School of Irish Dance, the same school he has gone to since he first started.
"For the first couple of years, it was difficult to remember the real reasons why I did it," he said.
The main reason: Irish dancing is in his blood. Steele's mother is a dance instructor and he started learning the steps from her. Along with playing basketball and other traditional kindergarten-age activities, Steele would suit up with sequined vests to dance the Irish way.
As a theater and public administration student, Steele is very involved on campus, including roles in shows, such as the recent "Next to Normal" by Miami's Stage Left. With his performance-driven goals, he is often split between two career paths.
His fallback option for the future is to teach dance, but he is not quite ready to give up being on stage.
"I go back and forth between two completely different things all the time," Steele said.
His four-year-old aspirations are still very much alive, though. With the mention of Broadway, Steele's eyes lit up. He said he plans to move to New York after graduation and see what happens.
"I've never even been before, but I know that I'll love the city and I just have to give it a shot," he said.
Armed with big goals, he is motivated not by acknowledgement, but by the same flip that switched 16 years ago.
"I realize now that I dance just because I love dancing," he said.
His stressful years at Miami have taught him to rely on the reasons behind the hard work.
"When you keep that in mind, it's a lot easier to keep going and just do it because it's fun for you," he said.
After a few years of subpar results, Steele revitalized his training ritual with Insanity workouts and extended practice times.
"I decided I needed to do more; I worked out a lot more and started eating healthier," he said, which he accounts as the key to his third place finish. "That put me over the edge."
All in all, Steele is happy to be back at his prime and is already training again for another dancing season.
"It was really hard to keep going when I wasn't being as successful as I wanted to be," he said. "Getting back there made it that much sweeter."
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