Francesca and Neil Roberts of South Africa
with Michael and Tracy Rvachew of British Colombia, Canada
2011 World Championships of Irish Dance
Photo: Tracy Rvachew
Moms in Irish dance are a committed bunch.  We're there driving to and from Irish dance classes many times several times a week.  We're sitting waiting for classes to end.  We're finding costume makers, making shoe repairs, ironing pants and shirts, looking for errant socks, putting crystals on costumes, doing hair, cheering, crying, hugging, coaching, caring for injuries, and praying. 

We're there from the time they dance their first "hop-two-threes" until they are champion Irish dancers qualifying for major competitions.  The biggest of these competitions in Irish dance is the World Irish Dancing Championships.  This year, the An Coimisiun le Rinci Gaelacha will host its World Irish Dancing Championships in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  They start on March 31st and end on the 8th of April.

As a mom, I want to be there for it all, for everything my kid does in Irish dance.  Giving up my spot at the side of my son at this stage of the game is difficult.  I've been there from when I laced on his first pair of reel shoes.  I remember signing him in stage-side and letting go.  That letting go was hard.  Would he fail?  Would he get up there and forget his steps or possibly crumble to the floor in fear.  He did neither.  The music came on, and the older girl counted him and a little girl in, and he danced.  My heart soared.

Cameron White 8 years old
Photo: Darlene White
It's like that every time my son competes in Irish dance.  Now he's old enough to check himself in stage-side.  I let go easier, but the same nervous anticipation takes hold until after he's completed his dance.  I smile and try to hide the fact that I'm praying like mad that he'll dance his best and won't forget his steps or fall on his face.

The first time that I couldn't attend a feis (Irish dance competition) with my son, I was a wreck.  I packed the bags as I normally do and gave directions to my husband on how to do things for Cameron.  It was worse than any instructions given to a babysitter.  I am far more neurotic, as is Cameron, with the particulars of what he does to prepare to compete and what he needs for any "just in case" situation (extra laces, safety pins, extra socks, snacks, etc).   Watching my husband and son walk out the door to go to that feis was so difficult.  My husband was a nervous wreck.  I know I must have given him the instructions at least five, no, wait, eight or nine times.  I let go.  It nearly killed me. 

My son didn't forget his steps.  He didn't fall on his face, or rip his pants, or fall into a vat of sock glue or any other horrible thing that I could possibly imagine.  He danced. 

Letting go was even harder when it came time to head off to the 2009 Southern Region Irish Dancing Championships in Dallas, Texas.  Dad, once again, had to take Cameron.  It about killed us- AGAIN.  Not being able to see him, hug him, pray like mad while watching him, coach him, or even fuss over him was so hard.  We all survived.  It is not my happiest thing to do- this sitting at home while Cameron competes far away.  Frankly, it's not his favorite thing either, but we make it work.  My son is 14 now, and I imagine I will have many, many opportunities in the future to learn this art of letting go.  I know in my heart that I will still fret and be nervous for him, and I will always miss him like crazy.  Something about boys and their mommas; I have a right to always miss him like crazy when he is away from me. 

Read more:
Lockie Nidds of Broesler takes on the World Championships

Interview with World Champion and professional Irish Dancer- Owen Barrington

Spotlight on World Champion Irish Dance School - McGing

With the World Irish Dancing Championships happening in Belfast, Northern Ireland in just a few short days, champion Irish dancers from around the world are traveling from near and far.  Many, for whatever reason, are making the journey alone, with friends or Irish dance schoolmates, or with family members - but not with their moms. 

Francesca Roberts of South Africa sent her fifteen-year old son off to Northern Ireland.  He's traveling with other Irish dancers.  I asked her how she's handling it.

"Neil is 16 and the reason I'm not there is because I couldn't afford it. He has traveled with his teacher and fellow dancers several times, but this time there are only two of them. I've always packed for him but this time he insisted on doing it alone. I gave him the checklist and pretended to be cool with it. There are no direct flights from South Africa to Ireland, so he had to fly to Dubai, then fly to Dublin, then take the bus to Belfast. Just heard that he's in Dublin, that he's "awesome and loving it already". Best message of my life. Now for the live commentary... who's coming over for coffee and a Valium?"

Ciaran Traynor and Sam Davenport
Photo: Tracy Davenport
Fourteen year-old Ciaran Traynor of North Carolina is traveling to Belfast with his dad while Irish-born mom, Susan, stays in the USA with their other son.  

"Ciaran is going with his dad this time. He is going via Manchester to see a Sunderland versus Man City football game and then taking the car ferry to Belfast arriving on Monday morning. Mike hasn't done this dance major thing before on his own, and he is getting nervous too. I gave him a check list and hopefully he can find it. There are several mothers from our school who are going to keep an eye out for him, and also my mother and sisters are driving up from Dublin- just to be on the safe side! I am staying home this time because it was supposed to be a family trip but (seriously) the puppy ate my other son's greencard and so, he couldn't travel.  I got the short straw to stay at home."

Some of the tips and preparations made for and with their sons have been humorous:

On packing and getting her son ready to go to Northern Ireland, Francesca said, "It's even worse when they get so big that they don't want your help packing. I handed over the checklist grudgingly and now I pray.  I am afraid I spoiled the whole independence effect by asking two hundred questions: Do you have socks? Toothbrush? Shoe polish..."

Susan made a list of tips for her husband:  "Never iron the pants with a hot iron, use a damp cloth. Never iron the velvet waistcoat. Iron the shirt but never iron the velvet cuffs. You explain to the TSA agent why your son carries 4 rolls of electrical tape and a role of gaffers - I have no tip for that!"

Although Patti Smart will be traveling to the World Irish Dancing Championships with her son, Sam Davenport, she remembers sending him off with his dad to go the All-Ireland Irish Dancing Championships in 2011. 

"Sam went to All-Irelands last year with just his dad. I remember feeling very sad. Sam is very funny about his hair for competitions, and I usually do it for him, so he was stressed that I wasn't there. Made his dad take pictures and text to me so I could check and okay it. I subscribed to the live-streaming, and on the day of his competition was glued to it with his dad giving me blow-by-blow description of the events via text.  We ended up with something like a $400 cell phone bill that month!!"

Michelle Aguayo of Colorado is sending her 11 year-old son, Aidan off to the World Irish Dancing Championships with his dad.  "I added a little more bling to his costume, a last minute run-through of packing. I'm having a little trouble dealing with not being there with him!  I'm looking forward to watching the live video feed and hoping for a recall.  I don't think I'll sleep a bit."

Good luck to all of the boys competing at the World Irish Dancing Championships!  I hope they all dance their very best.  I hope those moms who are staying at home while their sons travel to Ireland know that they are not alone.  We are all learning to let go little by little.  It's so nice to know that even if we're not there with them, they'll get out on that stage and dance. 


Have you traveled alone to a Major Irish dancing competition?  What is your advice to dancers who will be largely on their own or with a family friend?  Are you a teacher who has brought students to competitions without parents?  What is one thing you want parents to remember about packing for their child?  Share your tips in the comments box below.

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