Dressed in a surprisingly heavy wool costume adorned with Celtic patterns, her already curly hair tucked into an even fuller wig, Moira Kramp exudes joy when she takes her position on stage.
Arms stationary at her sides, legs crossed to form a distinct diamond shape, the Arlington Heights teen confidently begins to tap, stomp and click her feet as accordion and fiddle players start their jig. Moira oscillates between standing on the tips of her shoes' fiberglass toes and flicking and pointing her feet in a way that highlights the music's rhythm.
Moira KrampAge: 15
Hometown: Arlington Heights
School: Rolling Meadows High School
Who inspires you? My mom
What's on your iPod? Country!
What book are you reading? "Safe Haven" by Nicholas Sparks and "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee
The three words that best describe you? Outgoing, determined, happy
Her movements look impossibly intricate and yet also effortless, leaving no one to doubt how Moira won the U-14 title at the 2012 North American Irish Dance Championships.
"It's being on stage and moments like winning something you've worked so hard for that make it all worth it," said 15-year-old Moira, who bested more than 120 other dancers for the title. "It's a huge commitment, but I love it."
In a way, Moira's journey to her most prestigious win thus far dates back to the 1920s and '30s, when her great-grandparents emigrated to the U.S. from counties Cahan, Cork and Mayo in Ireland. Traditional Irish dancing is a way of life on the Emerald Isle, and several relatives brought the fast-moving art form to their adopted hometowns.
So it was only natural more than a decade ago when mother Lisa Kramp and then 4-year-old Moira made the brief walk into downtown Arlington Heights for an open house held by the world-renowned Trinity Irish Dancers.
Although it took a couple of years for Moira's dancing to evolve beyond enthusiastic hopping, she was hooked. Her parents and brothers couldn't gather in their living room without hearing the rhythmic skips from her bedroom overhead. Before long, she was performing at family parties and weddings and competing at the most elite level.
"Most of my family is Irish, so it's kind of cool to be able to do what my family did for so many years," Moira said. "It's a connection to my grandma especially, and my history."
The Rolling Meadows High School freshman spends two to three hours, five or six days a week practicing at Trinity's Elmhurst studio. That's on top of competitions and performances, which can exceed 20 in the month leading up to St. Patrick's Day. She's appeared on local TV news programs more than a dozen times.
Moira has become an even stronger dancer since the arrival of Dolores Taafe, a highly accomplished performer and coach who moved from Dublin last fall to come to Trinity. Taafe describes Moira as a hardworking, dedicated perfectionist who manages to bring both athleticism and grace to her dancing.
"She's hugely passionate and a great help to other dancers around her," Taafe said. "When Irish dancing grabs you, it's like a bug that you can't get rid of. And you can see it's a part of Moira. She's just stunning to watch."
Judges tend to agree.
Moira has won her regional competition, the Mid-America Oireachtas, twice in the past three years. In February, she won first place in the solo round of the All-Scotland Irish Dancing Championship in Glasgow. And last month, she won a solo gold medal and placed 13th overall out of 185 dancers at the World Irish Dancing Championships in Boston.
Solo and team competitions also have taken Moira to Ireland six or seven times, as well as Belfast, Ottawa and all across the U.S.
"We usually try to take at least one day to do a tour or some adventure," Lisa Kramp said. "Last time we went to Muckross House in Killarney. I know she'd love to see more."
Whenever talk turns to Ireland, Moira is quick to chime in. "I love everything about Ireland and can't get enough of that country," she said. "I'm always stuck in the competition, so I haven't gotten to see a ton of it. But everyone is so friendly, and the countryside is totally green. It's beautiful."
The hard shoes that most casual observers associate with the famed Riverdance company aren't even Moira's strong suit. She prefers the round of competition featuring soft shoes, or "ghillies," in which dancers appear light and airy as they quietly fly through the air.
"It's all about your athleticism around the stage, your leaps and your hang time," Moira said. "The music is faster. I like soft shoe the best."
When she's not dancing, Moira takes honors classes and runs track for the Mustangs. She suffers from shin splints that have forced her to the sidelines at times but enjoys competing in the 400-meter and 200-meter races and the 400-meter and 200-meter relays.
She also loves mentoring younger, budding Irish dancers and will teach at the Palatine Summer Taste of Trinity workshop in June.
Moira isn't sure what the future holds for her and dance. She's certain she'll be involved in some capacity as long as her feet are able, but she isn't sure she wants to continue competing at an elite level throughout high school at the expense of other activities.
But Lisa Kramp said that whenever Moira is upset because dance has to trump spending time with school friends, she'll go to a competition and get reinvigorated.
"We were coming home from the last Worlds (competition) and she said she realized her life wouldn't be like this, with all the traveling and shows and relationships with friends across the world, without dance," Kramp said. "I said, 'Don't stop this because this is your passion, and you'll feel an emptiness until you find something else to fill it.'"
• Kimberly Pohl wrote today's column. She and Elena Ferrarin always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.