Bridget Foti has waited almost her entire life for the chance to compete at the World Irish Dancing Championships—all 10 years of it.
The Ewing resident qualified at regionals and nationals and was scheduled to compete with approximately 150 girls in the Under-11 division that is the youngest age group eligible to compete as individuals at worlds from March 24 to April 1 in Glasgow, Scotland.
“I’m really excited to dance on the big stage,” said Bridget, 10, who is a fifth grader at St. Ann’s School in Lawrenceville.
Bridget’s mother, Jen Foti, signed up her daughter for Irish dance at the age of 3. She started at the Kotelnicki School of Irish Dance that was opened in Hamilton by Justin Kotelnicki in 2010 after he completed a nine-year run performing with Lord of the Dance.
“She’s three-and-a-half and I started asking around about classes like dance and gymnastics,” Jen remembered. “I was going to put her into cheerleading. I have a friend who’s originally from Ireland, and our daughters were in preschool together, and she told me about Justin, and said he just got out of Lord of the Dance and he’s starting his own school in Hamilton and he’s looking for kids to come to the school. I thought it sounded interesting. I don’ t have any background in Irish dance but I always thought it was cool.”
Kotelnicki said she saw something special in Bridget soon after her arrival.
“When they come through the door, you just know it,” Kotelnicki said. “I haven’t had another one at that age that I knew, to be honest. She’s the only one.”
“At the beginning, the learning curve is a little different,” she said. “She’s so far ahead of the other kids, you can see the progression and what she’s able to accomplish at a young age.”
But you don’t want to push too hard, she adds. “You don’t want to have burnout from trying to sustain that high level over a long period of time, because of the fact she was so good at a young age. We knew if she continued on the path she was going, this was inevitable.”
Bridget is one of three Kotelnicki students to reach worlds this year. Her mother wasn’t sure what to think of the early predictions, but it was clear that Bridget had a passion for Irish dance. She couldn’t get enough of it, even as a 4-year-old.
“I just remember after class every day I would stay late and watch the bigger kids do their steps,” Bridget said.
She improved rapidly and rose through the dance ranks.
Jen said that after about a year and a half, she was doing some of the stuff the older girls were doing just by watching them.
“Even though she started with the baby beginner steps, she started to progress really quickly once she started competing at age 4,” Jen said.
Bridget moved up through the ranks quickly, and by age 7, she was already an open champion dancer, which is the highest level for her age.
“She has this natural talent for it to pick it up quickly, and she went right up the charts,” Jen said. So it’s sort of not surprising that she is where she is at this point in time based on her natural talent, but it’s still amazing to see in just seven years her go from a beginner to the world championships.”
Bridget now mostly practices with the older kids. Her emergence brought opportunities to face high level competition early.
She placed 14th at nationals and fourth in the Mid-Atlantic Region that is considered the toughest in the country. Going to the world championships will bring the deepest field of talent that she has seen.
“I’m nervous because it’s the biggest competition in the world,” Bridget said. “I’m very excited.”
She was in Scotland last fall for the All-Scotland Championships in the same convention hall, but danced on a different stage than she will this month.
‘I cry every time she dances. I’m proud she’s able to get up there and dance the way she does.’
She closed February by going to the North American Feis Commission Championships in Arizona, a competition only for Irish dancers who previously had won an open competition. It’s her favorite domestic competition to date, though all of them bring the chance to perform.
“I like dancing with other people and getting to the front of the stage and showing the judges what I can do,” Bridget said.
It won’t all be dancing and competing in her return to Scotland. There is also some time for sightseeing, which has been a bonus to all the traveling for competitions.
“When we went to All-Scots, we took a tour of Edinburgh,” Bridget said. “This year we’re going to do this Harry Potter tour thing. I love Harry Potter.”
Bridget has spent plenty of her time practicing at Kotelnicki’s dance school that draws students from as far away as Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, while maintaining a strong Mercer County presence. She’s there five to six days per week, an hour and a half at a time, to prepare and assure that she gains confidence in her dances. Practices, she says, are very productive.
“She’s done a lot of high profile competitions leading into this worlds that I think will ultimately prove to be an advantage for her because of the fact that this is the biggest stage, but there were a lot of stages in between that were all stepping stones to get to this stage,” Kotelnicki said. “It wasn’t like this came out of nowhere. We had a path and direction we were trying to follow. I think that’s all stuff that will benefit her.”
Kotelnicki anticipates that she’ll have some jitters, but will be able to get over her nervousness.
“She’s very smart, she puts the work in, and she knows when she’s dancing well and not dancing well,” Kotelnicki said. “If we get her to peak at the right time and she’s dancing well, the nerves will go away.”
Said Bridget: “My goal is to recall. You go to worlds with your two dances that you recall. You can either do reel and hornpipe, or treble jig and slip jig. If you recall, you get to do a contemporary set.”
The top 50 dancers in each division will be recalled for a chance to do a contemporary set for the judges. Bridget has a special drive to want to recall at worlds.
“I like a lot of the contemporary sets,” Bridget said. “My favorite other dance is hornpipe because it’s slower, so there’s more time to perfect your feet and make your beats really good. I love the rhythm of hornpipe.”
Kotelnicki has overseen steady improvement in Bridget’s dancing. He’s watched her skill level evolve through the years.
“She’s always been very talented rhythmically,” Kotelnicki said. “That’s the tap aspect of Irish dancing. Her comprehension to different rhythms and how to change speeds has been superior since a very young age, even for those her age even still today. But she’s developed into a very good soft-shoe ballet type dancer which took a lot of time to get her there.”
“She’s worked hard on it, worked on her core, worked on her points and her arches and really upped her game in that aspect to make herself more of a full package or a triple threat,” she says.
Bridget will put all of her years of hard work on the stage at her first world championships. The excitement has been building over the years.
“I’m proud every time she dances,” Foti said. “I cry every time she dances. I’m proud she’s able to get up there and dance the way she does. I’m really proud of her no matter what.”
Foti has seen how much work Bridget has put into Irish dancing. It has taken more than natural talent to get Bridget to fulfill expectations set when she was just starting out.
“When I was 4 my dance teacher said I would go to worlds one day,” Bridget said, “And here I am.”