FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- Dancing upright in the garage of her home in Fort Belvoir's Russell Village, Savanna Saez struggles to keep her breath after a one-minute Irish stepdance practice routine.

The 12 year-old barely moves her arms, shoulders and head during the routine but drops of sweat slide down her forehead.

In Irish dancing, the most strenuous work resides with the feet and legs.

Moments later the Belvoir resident starts another routine on the wooden stage built by her father, Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Jay Saez, Coast Guard Headquarters, criminal investigations.

She tips, she taps and kicks creating a rhythmic sound similar to a drum line cadence. Her feet and legs move with a chaotic grace while her upper body remains still.

Savanna has been honing this body discipline for five years and her hard work led to a qualifying spot in this year's Irish Dance World Championships in Belfast, Ireland. The nine-day competition starts March 31. It features solo and group performances from men and women with age categories ranging from 10 to 11 to 21 and older.

Savanna is competing in the solo competition in her age category April 1.

"I'm really excited but really nervous," Savanna said. "It's going to be a really good experience."

Savanna's mother Stephanie, said the style traces back to a time when Irish females weren't allowed to dance. The ladies would move their feet but keep their upper body still to appear as if they weren't moving at all.

Contemporary competitive routines typically last a minute and are characterized by quick and precise movement of the feet with firm upper body control.

Judges distinguish dancers with criteria such as form, timing and rhythm.

Stephanie introduced Savanna to Irish Dancing while Jay was stationed in New Orleans in 2007.
Learning the techniques and discipline was frustrating for Savanna at first, but she quickly realized her passion for the art form.

Savanna has competed in numerous contests across the country and has risen to the the open champion level of dancing, the highest class of expertise for all dancers. With each peformance Savanna grew more confidence which culmminated in a fifth place finish out of 93 dancers at the Southern Region Oireachtas this past December in Orlando, Fla. to qualify for the Irish Dancing Championship.

It's been a journey full of successes but also frequent traveling. Competitions and dance studios are rarely close in proximity to Jay's duty stations so Savanna must travel to different states to stay sharp.

While In New Orleans, Savanna visited places such as Texas and Georgia.
Here in Virginia, Stephanie drives to Baltimore and New Jersey for class instruction.

"Sometimes she does homework in the car," Stephanie said of Savanna, who's also on her school's a honor roll this year.

Savanna has had to overcome adjustments each time her Famiily experiences a permanent change of station. Stephanie said her daughter has learned in three studios since 2007 and each challenges Savanna to learn differnt styles and teaching methods.

"She look's like a totally different dancer," said Stephanie, speaking of how her daughter's style appears after switching studios. "The traveling makes it that much more difficut but she works hard and she's finding a way."

Savanna's current instrcutor appreciates his pupil's dedication.

"She's just a good worker and she's doing an amazing job," said Kevin Broesler, Director of Broesler School of Irish Dance.

The Broseler school conducts competitive dancing studios in several states. Broesler said Savanna is one of approximately 40 solo dancers slated to compete in the Irish dance championship next month.

Broesler has been teaching Savanna for about a year and said she's a very good dancer.
Savanna has adjusted well under his tutedlege and he expects her to become better with more instruction.

Savanna said the friends she meets at competitions and her Family inspire her through the transitions. She also motivated by the success she's experienced in competitions.
"I just think about how good I could be," Savanna said.

Her dream is to win the Irish Dance World Championship competition and dance internationally in performance groups. Her journey continues in Ireland next month.

Savanna practices at least twice a week at home and receives lessons at a Broseler studio one to two days per week, all in preparation for the big event.

"It's a really big competition and it's world so everyone from all over the world is going to be there and there's so many really good dancers," Savanna said.
Savanna is eager to meet new friends, learn from more dancers and hopefully take another step toward acheiving her dreams.