Confessions of an older Irish step dancer
Finally a champion but it is the friendships that bind
I’ve been an Irish dancer since before I could remember. My childhood is marked by hair curlers (later replaced by wigs), Thursday and Friday evenings’ humid dance classes, and poodle socks. Poodle socks everywhere.
The competitive world of Irish dancing has changed a lot since I was a child. It’s hard today not to get caught up in the “politics” or pageantry of competition that so often belittles many dancers’ talents and or hard work.
However, the perks of being an Irish dancer remain by and large the same, if not growing better with age.
This past weekend I found myself in Anaheim, California - a six hour plane ride from my home of New Jersey - with thousands of other Irish dancers from around the world for the five-day competition of the North American Irish Dance Championships, shortly known as Nationals.
My mom, who came along and is a former Irish dancer herself, frequently noted how bizarre it felt to be bringing her relatively “old” 24-year-old daughter to a major dance competition. Some former competitors and teachers from other schools we ran into in Anaheim weren’t sure exactly why we were there before explaining I was actually competing.
I last competed back in November in Philadelphia at the Mid-Atlantic Region Oireachtas. There, my eight-hand ceili team and I took first place in the adult competition. Soon after, we decided it would only make sense to go on to Nationals (especially with them being in California, a perk if ever there was one.)
The year before that, I competed in a four-hand competition at the Oireachtas, ending a five year hiatus from competition for my team and I, and ultimately winning first place.
I can’t lie - winning first in a regional competition is a lot of fun. Growing up as a solo dancer, I usually considered myself lucky to even place in local or regional competitions. I was never really the front of the pack; I was mediocre in competitions. Marks often showed that I was the next placement out from actually being placed, thus coining the nickname “One Away O’Shea”.
But for me, Irish dancing was more than about the placements. I was never one to stress about results or marks. There would always be another competition to dance at; why worry?
Despite my sometimes lackluster approach to practicing, my parents didn’t fuss too much about the money. Not because my family is necessarily rolling in cash, but because Irish dancing is more than that, something that was reiterated to me this weekend in Anaheim.
Irish dancing has deep albeit relatively new roots in my family. My mother, the daughter of Irish immigrants, began her Irish dance career early as well, first dancing for Fedelmia Davis, before switching over Patsy McLoughlin, who I dance for today.