When she was seven, Calallan native Paige Lanham went with her family to see "Lord of the Dance" at the American Bank Center's Selena Auditorium. It was a show they went to simply for an enjoyable evening out. They never expected how much their lives would change after that night.
After the show, Paige was handed a flyer advertising Irish dance classes in the area, and Paige asked her parents if she could join.
"It looked fun and interesting," Paige said.
That was four-and-a-half years ago.
Today, 12-year-old Paige is quite the Irish dancer. She has traveled, family in tow, all over Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and New York competing in various "feisanna," or Irish festivals, where she is judged in hard and soft shoe dancing.
"I like soft shoe, but I might be better at hard shoe," Paige said. "I don't like hard shoe because it gives you blisters and it hurts your feet."
After dancing routines in both hard and soft shoes, the judges combine the scores and have the dancers in the top half do an additional hard shoe dance, called a "recall," to determine final placing.
On Dec. 4-6, Paige competed in the Southern Region Oireachtas, an annual regional competition for Irish Dancers from Texas all the way up to Maryland, in Dallas. It was her third time competing at Oireachtas. Her first year, Paige failed to place, but she was able to finish 43rd in her second year.
This year, Paige finished 19th out of the 92 girls in her division, qualifying for the North American Irish Dance Championships in Orlando, Florida. She missed qualifying for the World Championships held in Scotland by five spots.
As this will be her first time competing at the national level, Paige said she is unsure what to expect when she gets there.
"A lot harder dancing, more competitive, and maybe more girls," Paige said.
When Paige first started dancing, her family didn't know it would be such a competitive hobby. Her mother, Jennifer Lanham, said that she thought it was just going to be an activity that Paige would do for maybe an hour a week and just have fun with it.
"I usually practice two or three times a week, but if the teacher's here, it's probably more like three or four (times)," Paige said.
Paige's classes are with the Mo Cushla Academy of Irish Dance in Corpus Christi. She said her teachers, Abbey Pride from Georgia and Joni Muggivan from New Orleans, live out of state, alternating weeks when they will travel down to instruct their students and choreograph routines.
Paige's family travels with her as she competes in the various feisanna, which as one can imagine can be somewhat expensive.
"You have to decide which you're going to go to and when," Jennifer Lanham said. "You can't go to all of them. But they actually compete in the ballrooms of the hotels, so typically the families stay in the hotel rooms that weekend that they're competing, so every time she has a competition, it's like a little mini vacation. It can get pricey, so you kind of have to budget yourself, but it's worth it."
A big help in allowing Paige to compete in so many places has been her grandmother, Charlotte Ramsey.
"My mom is her biggest fan and helps a great deal financially to make it all possible," Jennifer Lanham said.
Even with all of the competition in Irish dance, Paige hasn't let it become the sole reason she continues to participate.
"I like it because it's fun and I made a lot of friends," Paige said. "And that's it."
For more information on Irish dance in the area, visit the Web site for the Mo Cushla Academy of Irish Dance at www.mocushla.com.