From the plumbing shop to the world stage: meet the Australian marvel of the Irish dancer | Dance

JRipple world champions are rare. Teenagers even rarer. You can find one of them working in his parent’s plumbing supply store in suburban Sydney every Saturday morning when he’s not training, or six days a week in the off season.

Liam Costello, 19, the slender, immaculately groomed young man who cleans the shop and fills customers’ orders is the reigning three-time Irish dancing world champion. He also has several Irish, North American and Australian championships to his name. He won his third World Irish Dancing Championship in April in Belfast.

“I answer the phone and get all the stuff for the plumbers, like pipes, faucets and everything else,” Costello says with a smile. “Personally, that’s not what I want to get into, but it’s nice to be with family and have some stability.”

When not advising clients on fittings, Costello is preparing for the Australian National Championships in Perth at the end of September and preparing for a role in a new Irish dancing show, Eireborn, which kicks off a national tour in Melbourne at the end of July.

Costello trains nine hours a day to prepare for the world championships. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

“I am on average five hours [of training] one day right now,” Costello says. “When I go to something like Worlds, I have up to eight or nine hours a day. It’s intense, like being an Olympic athlete.

Costello is meticulous by nature and describes himself as a perfectionist (“I like precision”). His blue eyes shine as he carefully answers each question, sometimes he touches a silver ring on his index finger or a silver necklace, so thin you can barely see it. His hair is perfectly slicked back like a young Elvis Presley and his sneakers are pristine white.

He shows Guardian Australia his world trophy. It’s as big as the men’s trophy at Wimbledon, but Costello likes the finer prizes, like a pair of gold cufflinks. “They are so cute,” he said.

For our photo shoot, he changes into shorts and the hard black pumps worn for Irish dancing. The toes are hard as rock and make a hell of a noise when he hits the ground with small precise foot movements. His high kicks are amazing and he doesn’t sweat. When he’s finished, he offers a humble shrug and a big smile, flexing his ankles.


In Australia, there is a social side to Irish dancing with community groups regularly holding ceilis. But the signature form of hard-torso stepdancing in which Costello specializes is the object of fierce competition in which children and adults dance for honors in the hard shoe and soft shoe categories.

Meet Liam Costello, three-time Irish Dancing World Champion from Australia – video

Surpassing regional and national competitions, dancers can then compete at world championships against hopefuls from more than 30 countries.

Before Michael Flatley’s Riverdance, the Broadway phenomenon that originated as an interval piece in the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest, Irish dancing competition was largely limited to Ireland and countries with large Irish populations. Irish immigrants. As Riverdance has gone global, so has Irish dancing. Studios were opened in Mexico City, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Dubai.

The stakes are even higher as successful contestants are frequently picked up by Riverdance (which continues to tour around the world) and the many other shows that have come in its wake, such as Gaelforce, Heartbeat of Home, Celtic Legends and ProdiJIG.

The intricate footwork and overall precision that is a hallmark of such productions can only come from years of these competitions, Costello says. “You have to break down every step and make them as perfect as possible because you’re judged on footwork, turnout, posture, everything. Training is about building the stamina to go through a full lap with everything perfect. , without anything abnormal.

Liam Costello in a dance studio
Costello says her perfectionist nature lends itself well to the precision required for Irish dancing. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

Growing up in the hills district of Sydney, Costello claims to have little contact with his distant Irish heritage. “I believe it was my great-great-great-grandparents on my father’s side who came to Australia around 1860 from County Cork, but that’s all I know about my ancestry,” says- he.

Her first encounter with Irish dancing was at an end-of-school-year concert. “I remember loving the music, but what I really loved were the steps and their precision. I really loved that. I like things to be perfect and I like everything to flow together. going well. If there’s a bump in the road, I’ll come back and make it perfect.

Six years old at the time, Costello learned the basics of Irish dancing by watching videos during summer vacation. “Then as soon as I could get into a class, I jumped on it.”

He had a little flak at school, he said. “Yeah, lots of teasing because I’m the dancing guy and don’t do football or soccer or ‘manly’ sports. Little kids can be rough and all those harsh words get stuck in my brain,” says he softly. He pauses before shrugging and smiling again. “But over time you become more comfortable with what you do and surround yourself with supportive people.”

Costello competed in his first World Irish Dancing Championships at the age of 11 (“I came in 16th”). In 2016 he won the All Ireland Championships and was a runner up at the 2017 World Championships in Dublin. In 2018 he topped the competition and has done so twice since.

The dancers compete in front of the judges with one or two others on the same stage at the same time, Costello says. Each performs their own routine, hoping to outshine the others on stage. “You have people doing completely different steps. They will go one way, you will go the other. It can sometimes look like bumper cars.

It’s pretty hard on the body too. “I had shin splints – it’s very common because your feet hit the ground so hard. I had knee and ankle problems. I used to have a back injury. hip difficult from high kicks.He speaks in a neutral tone, as if injuries weren’t a big deal.

“Irish dancing is as much a sport as an art form,” he says. “It’s like any sport with high impact and intense activity,” he says. “When something bothers me, I go for it, but I know where my limit is”

Costello is also looking forward to breaking into other dance forms.
Costello is also looking forward to breaking into other dance forms. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

Costello says he almost quit the competitive circuit during the pandemic. Travel became impossible. The competitions were postponed and then canceled. He is driven by competition. It was difficult for him to “seek nothing” without competitions.

“Looking back, I’m so glad I was able to move on and keep going,” he said, adding that he plans to train for another world championship, but that beyond that , he wants to break into other dance styles. (His Instagram account buzzes with hip-hop dance videos.) “My life has been so Irish, Irish, Irish… I’d like to branch out and do everything else.”

For now at least, a stint with Eireborne might provide him with the variety he craves.

“All the music comes from Irish rock stars like U2 and the Cranberries, those kind of bands. It’s still the Irish thing, but with a twist,” he says. soft and clumsy way. He’s excited to play, but he also doesn’t know what will happen next. He’s on a juggernaut of Irish dancing right now.

We finish talking and Costello carefully packs his shoes, suits and medals. He puts his delicate silver necklace back on and walks out of the dance studio and into the bashful sun.

  • Eireborne plays at the Palais Theater in Melbourne on July 29 before embarking on a national tour until August 22.

Laura J. Boyer