Young teenage dancers from the Kerry Dance School in Warwick, N.Y. at the 2009 Putnam County Feis

Photo gallery of the Putnam County Feis: Click here

When you think about teenagers, the image that normally springs to mind is surly youngsters who sulk, wear baggy clothes (or not enough clothes) and too much black make-up.

But the teenage Irish dancers at the Putnam County Feis present quite a different picture.  

There were lots of young children at the Feis, but there were plenty of teenagers too, and the older girls are happy, polite and athletic. Not only does dance keep them out of trouble – they also really love it. 

“I’ve been dancing since I was three,” says Michela Bremer Summa, who’s 16. Her mother’s a dance teacher and runs a dance school. “All my best friends are from Irish dancing.”

Michela isn’t the only one to make friends through dance. A band of seven other girls from the Griffith School of Dance in Connecticut, walking together towards their final contest, had the same view.

“If I stopped dancing I wouldn’t know what to do,” said Bridget O’Hare, 15.

“I’ve been in this dance school nearly since I was born,” said another, Holly Berlandy.

A third, Catherine Maloney, 17, piped up, “We’ve all become really close with each others’ families.” 

They giggled and interrupted each other, just like good friends or family would do. 

John Glynn, the Feis chairman, observes, “Dancing teaches participants discipline, but most importantly, they make life-long friends. I’ve gained the same thing from it. I’ve made friends throughout the U.S. and Canada.”

His own children, now ages 45, 43 and 39, all made strong friendships through dance. 

So when other teenagers are being distracted by soccer or other sports, girls like Michela want to become adjudicators or teachers or dance professionally.

And there are other reasons to continue. “When you listen to happy music onstage, you get really pumped up,” Michela says. “It’s really fun.”