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Bull Mountain sisters head to Scotland this weekend for Irish Dance World Championships.

TIMES PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - From left, Elly and Abby Cosart are heading from the Tigard area to Glasgow, Scotland, this weekend to compete in the World Irish Dancing Championships.When Elly Cosart's mother first signed her up for Irish dancing lessons, they say, she thought it would be fun — like “Riverdance,” the stage show that became a global phenomenon in the mid-1990s.

Flash forward a dozen or so years, and Elly Cosart and her younger sister Abby are still having fun. But the sport of Irish dancing is a little different than what the Cosarts, who live on Bull Mountain, thought they'd be getting into.

“My mom sort of thought, 'Oh, won't it be fun to put the girls in Irish dance? … Maybe they'll have a recital once a year or something,' with no idea the competitive, over-the-top world that she was getting us into,” Elly said.

Abby, 16, and Elly, 23, are among the best Irish dancers in the United States. After placing third and ninth respectively at the Western US Regional Oireachtas — a qualifying competition — in November, they'll be representing the Murray School of Irish Dancing, along with the Western region, at the World Irish Dancing Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, this month.

“It'll be a really, really tough competition,” Elly said. “It's basically the Olympics of Irish dancing. Only the best of the best get to even qualify, and there's just so few slots for the recall.”

TIMES PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Elly and Abby Cosart, from left, have been Irish dancers for more than a decade. They practice at the Murray School of Irish Dancing off Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.Abby, a sophomore at Tualatin High School, has competed on the world stage before. She participated at the championships last year in Montreal, but did not reach the second round.

“They give a certain amount of points to everyone, and I ended up placing 72nd overall,” Abby said.

She is hoping for a finish in the top 50 this year, and has been working with a personal trainer to build up her upper body strength.

But this will be her older sister's first appearance at the top level of international Irish dancing.

“Even to qualify, for me, was like a huge deal,” Elly said.

“She was gradually improving, and then this year was, like, her year,” Abby said simply.

Despite its name, the Cosarts' sport isn't just for the Irish.

“Irish dancing is all over the world,” said Elly. “You do not have to be Irish to Irish dance at all.”

The discipline has also changed and evolved over the years, Abby and Elly said. Routines are still set to traditional music, Elly explained, but dance techniques are more modern than the old folk steps.

“We wouldn't say it's folk dancing anymore,” Abby said.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ELLY COSART - When Elly and Abby Cosart perform, they wear wigs and colorful costumes. Both sisters placed in the top 10 at the regional qualifying tournament, or oireachtas, last November.It's also a lot of work. Abby and Elly's sister, who is now 20, used to participate in Irish dancing as well, but they said she had to quit the sport due to arthritic pain in her knees. Routines are just 45 to 90 seconds in length, but Elly compared them to sprinting: a burst of exertion that can end up feeling much longer and more draining than one might expect for the short time it lasts.

“There's lots of injuries from Irish dancing, for sure,” said Elly. “So you have to be really careful.”

“I've luckily never had any injuries, really,” Abby added.

While Elly is now well into her 20s, she has stuck with Irish dancing, which she said she started doing when she was about 11.

“I was the college student who kept saying, 'Oh, I'll quit next year,' 'No, I'll quit next year,' and then I could just never do it,” Elly said. “And I actually ended up just really improving a lot and just getting better, really. So I'm glad that I ended up sticking with it, because this last competition year has been the most successful of my life — and Abby's, too.”

Geraldine Murray, the Cosarts' dance teacher and “second mom,” as they described her, called Abby and Elly “incredible dancers.”

“They deserve to be going to worlds,” Murray said. “I'm so proud of them.”

The World Irish Dancing Championships are just a few days away. The event begins Sunday at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.

The Murray School of Irish Dancing is located at 4620 S.W. Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy., Portland.

By Mark Miller
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