The end of my Irish dance hiatus - coming out of retirement for Oireachtas 2011
Getting back in the game with my first Irish dance competition of the year
The fall season is high-time for regional Irish dance competition across North America, and for the Mid-Atlantic region, Thanksgiving weekend is forever linked with the annual Oireachtas in Philadelphia.
The Oireachtas is a three-day event that, for my Mid-Atlantic region, turns the Philadelphia Marriott into a ground-zero for all things Irish dance. From the competitions to the always hectic but enjoyable results, to vendors selling all things Irish, and of course after-parties in the lobby, there is no escape from the world of Irish dance on Thanksgiving weekend.
I’ve been involved with Irish dancing for quite literally, my whole life. I started taking classes at the ripe old age of 3 with the same dance teacher my mom danced for, Patsy McLoughlin, in New Jersey. Now, at 22 years old, I’ve found myself practicing again after coming out of a five year long hiatus.
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I competed in my first Oireachtas at only 5 years old. My mom likes to remind me how she and the other dance-veteran mothers had less than high hopes for our first ever 4-hand competition. “We just hoped you’d get through it up there,” she’s said. Magically, we did.
I’m happy to say that I’ll be making my return to competition this year. While I don’t have the guts (or, apparently, the ankles) to undertake solo competitions again, some friends and I have decided to throw our hats in for the adult 4-hand competition. To be in the adult competition, all members of the team need to have not competed for at least five years.
The last time I competed at the Oireachtas was when I was still in high school. After that, I hung my dance shoes up in order to focus on college, and resolved myself to be a spectator, and sometimes frantic team assistant at the Oireachtas every year. This weekend’s Oireachtas will be my seventeenth - evidently, I can’t escape them, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This year my desire to compete again materialized when I made the cut-off for the adult teams.
Organizing three fellow “retired” dancers, we embarked on the physically-shocking practice of a measly 1 hour a week class. I often find myself wondering now how in God’s name I ever endured two to three hour practices at least twice a week, which were usually intensified around competitions.
The day after practices this year were often met with aching bones and sore feet; time hadn’t been too kind to us during our retirement.
Our first practice about two months ago was a sight to behold. We all knew the dance nearly inside out as we had grown up doing the 4-hand reel every year at the Oireachtas. Physical endurance, on the other hand, was a different story.