The month of March is high time for Irish dancers to get to strut their stuff at all types of events. Parades, dinner dances, sporting events - next to nothing is off limits for St. Patrick’s Day season.
As a former Irish dancer with the Early-McLoughlin School in New Jersey, I remember March after March being jam packed with performances. Weekends were spent being carted around to shows and events of all kinds. We’d be in one location, and before we knew it we were on to the next. It was always a whirlwind.
While they were always hectic, dance-outs were some of my favorite memories of being an Irish dancer. It’s rare for children to be able to engage and participate in an activity that is so linked to their heritage. Even further, it’s rare that said activity has a month out of the year where people of all nationalities choose to celebrate in.
Besides the aspect of celebrating my heritage, getting to perform alongside some of my closest friends while doing the thing we most loved to do most was an experience I’d never trade. Lifelong friendships were solidified in backstage waiting areas, private rooms reserved for dancers and car rides in between shows.
So, what exactly goes into a “show” for Irish dancers? Of course, there’s the preparation beforehand. Shows were always an exposition of sorts, a way for us dancers to try out new and fun material in a low to no pressure environment. We get to play with Irish dance during the month of March, rather then have a tunnel-vision focus on competitions.
The crowd favorite for dance shows? Treble reel, always. And, luckily for us, it was usually our favorite as well. Nothing better than a fast and lively reel to get both the dancers and the audience excited and clapping along.
Another crowd favorite is any kind of team dance. Anything from little beginners doing a two-hand reel, to senior award-winning four-hands and eight-hands, seeing the intricacy of a team dance is always appealing to crowds.
St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday that’s celebrated in a number of places. As dancers, we often faced the challenge of performing in bars and restaurants. Tight quarters, tiled and carpeted floors - more often than not, these locales weren’t exactly Irish dancer friendly. The contrast between a dark lounge area and dancers decked out with wigs and glittery costumes was always a strange paradox.
But this often only added to the fun. Trained to compete at levels of perfection, performing in a crowded bar usually resulted in abounding laughter from us dancers. Squeezing past patrons to finish a step, trying not to kick chairs, purposely under-performing in order to accommodate tight quarters, all we could do was help but laugh.
Even further, us kids were often treated to an unlimited supply of chicken fingers and soda during our breaks at longer shows. Need I say more?
One of the nicest pieces about growing up doing Irish dance shows is that each dancer ends up in a routine as to what shows he or she will be attending each year. For many years, I attended the same nursing home and library on St. Patrick’s Day. Getting to see that not only were the staff and patients looking forward to dancers, but that they also remembered specific dancers was always so touching. Each year they would note how you’ve grown and just look so happy to have some entertainment for even an hour. It was one of the best part about doing shows.
So while St. Patrick’s Day season may be all business for Irish dancers, it’s the business of pleasure. March is the the good life for an Irish dancer - adoring fans, free food and good friends.