As her blond curls bounced and a smile crept through the determination on her face, Simone Loysen flicked her feet to the Celtic music drifting from iPod speakers in her home studio.
By age 4, Simone was high-kicking her way through Irish dance competitions, less than a year after she began learning to jig.
"It's like I was made to Irish dance," the 9-year-old said.
Inspired by the famous "Riverdance" performance and her older half sister's interest in Irish dancing, Simone began copying the style and was enrolled in dance classes by age 3.
One competition wig and sequined dress later, she was competing against other children around the region and the country.
"She excelled," Stephanie Schor said of her daughter's early progress.
With lessons also in ballet, lyrical dance and acrobatics, Simone stays busy and in shape through dance.
Her artistry does not come without its share of pain. Simone already suffers from various hip and ankle ailments, not uncommon in what her mother calls a risky activity.
"If you're twisting yourself up like a pretzel, you're doing it right," Simone said with a laugh.
As an early Christmas gift, Simone came home from a December Irish dance competition with a giant trophy and a 2011 Southern Region Champion sash.
The dancer placed first out of 64 under-9 age category competitors in the Southern Region Oireachtas, which includes 14 states, the District of Columbia and Mexico.
To help pay for her winter trip to Orlando, Fla., Simone set up a lemonade and hot cider stand in downtown Frederick, earning money to send herself to the regional competition.
Simone earned third- and second-place status in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Already feeling the self-imposed pressure of building on her winning streak, she was supported by her personal cheerleading section, including her coach Sean Culkin and instructor Nicki Bayhurst. Simone said she thought the announcer made a mistake when he proclaimed her the champion.
"I've got to be dreaming" was the girl's first reaction.
Simone earned a perfect score -- first place from all nine judges.
Her regional win piled onto the anxiety of competition.
"Once you win regionals, there is a standard to uphold," Simone said.
At the Culkin School of Traditional Irish Dance in Silver Spring, she practices three times a week, learning routines, honing technique and building stamina.
"We do the steps over and over and over, get a drink of water, then do them over and over and over," Simone said.
In the studio hidden in her the family's detached garage, she practices five to seven days a week, between dance classes and home schooling.
While Simone loves the challenge of Irish dancing, she said the process can be tough.
"It can be absolutely, terrifyingly horrible," she said. "Irish dance is crazy."
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