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Irish dancers from around the world face off in Belfast's Waterfront

Keith Marron puts finishing touches to one of his Irish dancing dresses. Picture by Matt Bohill.
Andrew Madden

EXTRAVAGANT outfits, intricate hairstyles and bronzed limbs – it can only mean Irish dancers are in town.

Dancers from all over the world have been in Belfast this week as the 2016 All-Ireland Irish Dance Championships reach their climax.

Ranging from eight years old to adulthood, up to 1,600 competitors have been spinning and bouncing their way across the stage in the hope of making it through to April’s world championships in Dublin.

More than 7,000 spectators and dozens of vendors are also at the Waterfront Hall for the competitions run by the Irish Dancing Commission.

Orlaith ni Bhriain, the commission’s public relations officer, said the turnout has exceeded all expectations.

"We’ve had a lot of people travelling, from Australia, America, Canada all over," she said.

"This is the oldest event there is and there’s a really good atmosphere and an extremely high standard.

"As this is an international qualifier, people have been practising all year round for this and for the chance to compete in the world championships in Dublin."

Among the dancers yesterday was 15-year-old Aoife Haynes, who is competing for the fourth time.

"I practise pretty much all the time I’m not in school for this, so it means a lot," she said.

"I won last year so I hope I can do well again and get through to the world championships. So far the competition's been really tough though, but we’ll see how it goes."

Keith Marron, owner of Rising Star Designs, creates some of the costumes that aim to catch the judges' attention.

With prices anywhere from £650 to £1,300 for a single dress, Irish dancing can be as pricey as it is competitive.

"They’re looking to stand out, because there would be three or four dancers on the stage at the same time, so they’re looking to be unique and get noticed by the judges," he said.

"To do that we use lots of bright colours, shiny gems and different designs to match the dancers' style and personality. So it’s really a complete package."

The six-day competition concludes tomorrow with men and women in the senior categories squaring off for their chance to perform in Dublin in April.

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