A World Championship Pearl-formance

Team from Pearl Dance Studio finishes 11th in competition.

Left to right, Madison Bucher, Paige Yancer, Lily Maniscalco and Sandra Rodriguez at the World Dance Competition.

After spending roughly eight to 10 years practicing the art of soft-shoe Irish step dancing, last year four girls from Port Richmond felt it was time to make the transition to hard-shoe, a more difficult style similar to riverdancing. In just their second year performing the step, the junior Irish team from Pearl Dance Studio made their World Dance Championship debut on Tuesday, Aug. 1 in Secaucus, N.J.

The team, comprised of 12 to 13 year olds Lily Maniscalco, Paige Yancer, Sandra Rodriguez and Madison Bucher, has only received word they did not place in the top five teams out of the 34 participating, they earned an 11th place finish. Of the participating teams, there were schools from more than 15 countries, performing 200 routines selected from 150,000 acts over the course of the past season.

“[The World Championship] was very different than our other competitions. I feel that we did very good since it was just the four of us, which was [much less] than some of the other groups,” Yancer said.

“It was fascinating to watch so many talented dancers from all over the world,” added Rodriguez. “Although my favorite part of the World Dance Championship was bonding with my team members, and other dancers just like me.”

In terms of the girls from Pearl Dance Studio, they began practicing the particular routine which they took to the championship last October under the teachings of Kirsten Kahlert. Making their accomplishments even more notable, this was Kahlert’s first year instructing hard-shoe Irish step dancing.

“The girls wanted to move up to hard-shoe but I didn’t have anyone to teach the class,” Alexandra Karpin, the owner and director of Pearl Dance Studio, located at 3065 Richmond St., said. “[Kahlert] and I grew up dancing together for the last 15 years in Port Richmond, so I thought I’d ask her to teach it, and she did an amazing job.”

Upon learning their routine from Kahlert, the team of girls performed different rehearsals throughout the year, at Irish Night at Campbell Square in July and at three larger competitions. Although they competed at one in Lancaster and another in Voorhees, N.J., it was not until one which took place in Wilmington, Del., in late-April that they were invited to compete at the World Dance Championship.

“The scoring amongst the different groups and genres was based on age categories, and the girls were in the 12- to 13-year-old beginner category,” said Karpin, 25. “The judges gave them a certain point base and factored in the dance, style, lyricals and other elements contributing to the overall performance. Ultimately, [our team] was selected to represent the Nexstar Talent Competition at the World Dance Championship.”

Karpin added that receiving this information was shocking, not in any way because of how the girls performed, but rather because for her, this is only the fifth year that her dance studio has been open. In 2012, after learning of the closing of her childhood dance studio in Port Richmond, The Children’s School of Performing Arts, which was located at 2501 E. Clearfield St., she got the idea to open her own studio.

“At the time, I was teaching dance while in college and I saw a void open in the neighborhood, so I decided to open my own studio,” Karpin, who explained a lot of local children first get into Irish step dancing given the Port Richmond neighborhood’s rich Irish heritage, said. “I couldn’t imagine having grown up without dance, so I wanted to give back as well.”

She added she chose to name the studio “Pearl” because her niece, who had also been dancing at The Children’s School of Performing Arts before its closure, had called her “Pearl,” as she had another aunt named “Alex.” Thus, the opening of Pearl Dance Studio was truly a local, neighborhood-sparked initiative.

“This was another reason making it to the World Dance Championship was shocking, because we’re good but we’re also a recreational studio from a small neighborhood who was competing against really big dance schools,” Karpin said. “It was a really big deal for us, and I’m so proud of these girls.”

Moving forward, Maniscalco, Yancer, Rodriguez and Bucher plan to continue dancing hard-toe Irish step dancing together as a team, and competing in an equal number of competitions.

“I think that we are going to train and try even harder this year so that hopefully we can win this coming year,” Maniscalco said. “Unfortunately we didn’t make it to the top five this year, but we all hope that we can get back into the World Championship next year and hopefully win.”

Although there rests the potential to enter more, each competition costs anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000 to enter, and therefore funding prevents the studio from entering more. However, Pearl Dance Studio hosts a number of fundraising events and opportunities throughout the year, which are all highlighted on its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Pearl-Dance-Studio-409942959111539/. Its next event will be a car wash at the Applebee’s located at 2535 Castor Ave. on Saturday, Sept. 30.

The studio has also opened its 2017/2018 registration, with classes available for students ages 2.5 through 18 years old. Available classes include hip hop/jazz, musical theater, teen tap, ballet, cheerdance, mini Irish team, Jr. hard shoe and more.

For more information on registration, classes or donating to the dance studio, contact Karpin at: pearldance@comcast.net.