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Ohio State student wins Irish dancing crown

Katie Higgins / Lantern photographer

Michael Holland, a 22-year-old from Hilliard, Ohio, boarded a plane headed to Belfast, Northern Ireland, April 5 to compete in the World Irish Dancing Championships. He returned to Ohio April 10, trophy in hand, as the Senior Men’s World Irish Dancing Champion.

There were more than 4,000 competitors representing more than 25 different countries at the World Championships, Holland said.

Holland has been dancing since he was 3 years old. He has competed in the World Championships 10 times and placed second twice.

“This time around, I practiced more than I ever had in the past,” Holland said. “I went to a trainer twice a week. I lost weight and ate really healthy. It was true dedication.”

Holland comes from Irish roots. Dancing is a tradition that has been passed down to him and his three siblings.

“My mom danced when she was younger,” Holland said. “My papa comes from Ireland and my nana got her daughter and her (other children) into dancing, and the tradition continued on to me.”

Holland’s sister, Caitlin Holland, a third-year in early childhood education, teaches at Richens/Timm Academy of Irish Dance in Dublin, Ohio where Michael attends.

“It’s still hard to believe,” Caitlin Holland said. “We’ve been hoping he’d win since he was 12. Every time he loses, we all lose. We’re really proud and it’s a huge sense of relief.”

Michael Holland won the North American Irish Dance Championships five times and the All-Ireland Irish Dancing Championships twice, he said.

Now that he has won the World Championships, he said he is not sure what his future holds.

After graduating from high school in 2008, Michael Holland attended OSU but decided to take some time off in 2010 to pursue his love for Irish dance. He said he intends to return to OSU Autumn Semester 2012 but is undecided with a major.

“Right now, I’m in the international studies department focusing on business, but I’m not sure if I want to continue with that or not. We’ll see,” he said. “I’m kind of just letting the wind blow me in any direction and seeing where I land.”

Michael Holland’s coaches, John and Heather Timm, have a history with competitive Irish dance and are “extremely excited and thrilled” with Holland’s success, John Timm said.

John Timm won the World Championships in 1993 after 19 years of Irish dance classes with his instructor, Ann Richens. After winning the World Championships, Richens brought John Timm on as a business partner. The dance academy was then retitled the Richens/Timm Academy of Irish Dance.

Heather Timm began taking lessons from Richens when she was 6 years old and throughout her career has won second place at the North American Nationals, second place at the All-Ireland Awards, fifth place at World Championships and first place at the Mid-American Championships, she said.

Michael Holland was coached by Richens for the majority of his Irish dance career, as was his mother when she danced, he said.

Richens passed away Aug. 30, after “fighting a recurrence of uterine cancer,” according to an article in The Columbus Dispatch.

John Timm said Michael Holland’s journey to first place was a long and sometimes discouraging one, but he said he was certain Michael Holland was capable and deserving of the World Champion title.

“There were years he was sure to win and didn’t,” John Timm said. “We always wondered if everything was going to fall into place for him. It was a humongous sense of relief (when he won) because he deserved it so many times.”

Heather Timm said she knew Michael Holland deserved to win but wasn’t sure the judges would award him with first place.

“In terms of the judges, they’re more familiar with overseas dancers. They know their faces,” Heather Timm said. “Michael has a really good reputation because he’s been there so many times, but it’s quite a feat for an American to win now.”

Heather Timm said she and her husband knew Michael Holland had won the first of two rounds, but waiting to hear the results of the second round was a nerve-wracking experience.

“We shot out of our seats we were so excited. It was thrilling,” she said. “For almost the past 10 years, we’ve been training him on a weekly basis, so it’s been a life-long journey.”

Michael Holland said although winning the World Championships is the highest award he could achieve, Irish dance still has a place in his future.

“My competitive career is pretty much coming to an end at this point,” he said. “But I’ll definitely be teaching in my future.”

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