Reporting from inside the world of Irish dance Photo by: Shelly Allen Art / shellyallenart.com

Flip yer wig: confessions of an Irish dance mom


Reporting from inside the world of Irish dance Photo by: Shelly Allen Art / shellyallenart.com

While the rest of the sane world was enjoying the birthday of our fine country on July 4th, I was trapped with a gaggle of crazy Irish dance moms at the North American Dance National Championships in Chicago.

There is duct taping, wig-throwing, shouting and nervous sweat in abundance right before the competition.  Amidst the early morning chaos of readying our preteen and teenage daughters for their moment in the spotlight, I begin to channel some strange robotic, perfect, zombie inner-mother.

I started speaking in a tone that can only be described as Mary Poppins heavily medicated on Zoloft. “Okay Kathryn, time to get ready,” I say in this bizarre Zen sing-song voice.

She gets her bag of sundries out -- a wig (similar to a dust mop I use on my wood floors), a bag load of various sized hair pins, a brush and then… panic.

“I don’t have the DONUT?!?!”

Now those of you not in the dance world might just assume that she woke up really hungry or that I have instilled really bad eating habits in my teenage daughter, but neither would be true. A donut is used under the wig to provide height.

“Okay,” I say in my sing-songy happy voice.  “No worries, we’ll improvise.”

This is usually done with a sock, but I didn’t pack any socks.  So to avoid any undo stress I calmly rummage through the suitcase. Pulling out a thong, I say in my Zoloft infused Mary Poppins voice, “Yes, yes this will do quite nicely,” all the while thinking, OMG who the hell are you?

I begin to ready her head for wig placement, careful not to jab too hard or pull too tightly. Constantly checking on her nerves, providing encouraging words and from her… nothing.

No expression. No conversation. NOTHING.

I start to get a little concerned. I don’t know why she’s like this at every competition, but it starts to put a little stress in my voice.

And finally she speaks. “The girls are waiting for us, we’re late!”

“Okay, it’s breakfast, tell them to walk over and we’ll meet them there,” said I.  

Another text and another,  “We’re late they’re waiting for us.” And another, “Okay, we are walking out the door, tell them to start walking we’ll meet them there,” I said with a now noticeable Jersey City accent. 

And then the rapid fire text to her phone and now mine.  The Mary Poppins in me ducked for cover and let me out.


With a chime noting the arrival of the elevator Zoloft Mary Poppins returned and said,  “Now, let’s get to breakfast, shall we?”

Breakfast was great.  No one ate.

Competition time arrives. Headbands, make-up check, stretching, run throughs, grouchy Sheraton staff (you know who you were).

The “moms” settle into the ballroom packed with spectators. They announce our team and we all hold our collective breaths. “Please GOD just let them dance well.”

I have bitten my well-manicured nails down to the nubbins at this point.  It seems like an eternity, but somehow during the dance the rest of the world slips away as we watch our girls dance.

I find myself feeling my mother, long gone, standing right beside me.  I know that this is what she and my dad experienced all those years ago watching me and the girls I still call my dance friends perform these same ceilis in the basement of St. John the Baptist Church in Jersey City under the tutelage of Margaret McNamara. 

Back in the here and now, the girls danced beautifully.  Now we wait and see if they were good enough to get a medal.

They don’t actually tell what place you’ll get, just that you placed.  Emotions ping-pong back and forth, between happy, hopeful, sad, terrified, disappointed and just teenaged angst.

“Do you think we’ll recall?” my Kathryn asks.  There is no right answer.  For the record, not even Zoloft Mary Poppins can answer that one correctly.

They get their recall, which is code for “more stress this way.”

Exhausted, we put back on the dresses, check the wigs and headbands, slap on some make-up and send them up.  Thirty seconds later it is all over with.  We waited for three hours for 30 seconds of fame.  

I cheer loudly for the their accomplishment, wishing maybe they could have been a little higher (unless they’re first -- we all think it and you’re lying if you say you don’t).

She comes off the stage and we hug, and in that hug I feel every arm of every Irish ancestor wrap around us and suddenly, three hours of claustrophobia doesn’t seem quite so long and my heart is swelling with pride. My inner Zoloft Mary Poppins swallows hard on a Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine go down.


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