Canadian Irish dancing champ wins 7th world title in Dublin

The world of competitive Irish dancing has been dominated by a Canadian for much of the past decade and Michaela Hinds has done it again, winning the world title in Dublin on Saturday.

Michaela Hinds plans to retire after winning more titles than any other North American

Canadian Michaela Hinds, third from the right, has dominated the world of competitive Irish dancing, winning seven World Championships titles. (Michaela Hinds)

Brampton, Ont., native Michaela Hinds is celebrating her seventh win at the World Irish Dancing Championship in Dublin, in what she says was her final competition.

In the world of Irish dancing, Hinds was already a standout. She entered the competition with six world titles under her sparkly belt, the most awarded North American in the history of the so-called Olympics of Irish dancing.

Ahead of travelling to Dublin, she admitted she was nervous.

"When you go back to defend a title, I find it a lot more stressful than winning the first time because everyone's expecting so much from you already, and you have to give that much more than you have in the previous years to keep standing out from everyone else," said Hinds, 21, said in a phone interview with CBC News.

After the competition, she feels it's time to hang up her shoes, at least as a competitor. 

"This was the last age group that I could probably dance in," says Hinds. "Also, my body is falling apart after all these years of dancing."

Dancing on a broken foot

Few things illustrate her dedication to Irish dancing more than the fact that last year she danced on a broken foot that was still healing from multiple fractures.

How did she do?

"I ended up winning it," she says, matter-of-factly.

That Olympic-athlete-like dedication is evident in everything Hinds does. In the months before competitions, the Sheridan College kinesiology student is at the gym at 5:30 a.m. for a workout and again after her college classes three times a week.

Hinds's preparation for Irish dancing competitions includes early morning workouts every day and a professional athlete's diet. (Michaela Hinds)

On top of that, there's dance classes three times a week, for hours, plus the workshops on the weekends.

Hinds says she never eats out with her friends, but makes her food at home, focusing on lean protein and vegetables to keep her hard-working muscles in top shape.

"Definitely she has talent but I'd say her biggest strength is that she has determination and [a] work ethic you just can't deny," says Kathy Irvine, one of her teachers at the Butler Fearon O'Connor School of Irish Dancing in Brampton.

Irvine has been working with Hinds for more than a decade and was a multiple Irish dancing champ herself. But she says she was happy to see her student top her record, and then some.

"She perfects every minute detail of her performance, including the way that her shoe is tied."

A global dance phenomenon

Her dominance over a form long ruled by dancers from Ireland is indicative of the increasingly global popularity of Irish dance. A quick glimpse at the competitors at the World Championships reveals a diverse and multicultural group of performers.

Irvine says the success of Hinds, stretched over a decade, played no small part in making Irish dancing a global phenomenon.

"I think Michaela's success has proven not just what Canadians can do, but what one human individual can do."

Also surprising to an outsider's eye is the pageantry involved: heavy, bejewelled costumes and spray tans are de rigeur, and girls and women compete in heavy wigs of Shirley Temple-like curls. Apparently it's a historic nod to the roots of Irish dancing, where children would attend dance classes right after church, their hair curled and wearing their Sunday best. 

Hinds says the outfits help get her "in the zone" before competing. "You're an artwork and you're making artwork." 

Life of a retired champion

All that will be difficult to leave behind, but Hinds plans to stay involved in the world of Irish dancing by receiving her certification to teach. Eventually, she would like to study to become a midwife.

She says she won't miss those 5 a.m. workouts, but will probably always stay active.

When you walk on stage, you're setting foot on a blank canvas and you're about to paint a masterpiece, but through dancing.- Michaela Hinds

"I feel like it will be very different, I don't know what I'll do with my time. My boyfriend will be happy."

For all her athleticism, Hinds sees herself as an artist, too.

 "When you walk on stage, you're setting foot on a blank canvas and you're about to paint a masterpiece, but through dancing."


Deana Sumanac-Johnson

Senior Education Reporter

Deana Sumanac-Johnson is a senior education reporter for CBC News. Appearing on The National and CBC Radio, she has previously reported on arts and entertainment, and worked as a current affairs producer.