Tis the season when everyone loves to be Irish, or at least for a day or two. They put on their finest “Kiss Me I’m Irish” shirts, grab a green beer and jig the night away.
It is also the time for Irish dancers to shine! They will perform at countless nursing homes, schools, private parties, and, of course, parades! In March, all eyes are on these dancers. They put in hours of practice to prepare to entertain the crowds and they love it! They love the cheering and applause that they get. The more excited the crowd, the better they perform. It makes the sore muscles and blisters worth it.
In March, everyone loves an Irish dancer. However, it seems that the rest of the year there are a lot of misconceptions and negativity surrounding the Irish dance world. Many of the comments I see posted on various articles show a true lack of knowledge about Irish dancing. They are assumptions. Correcting or responding to these comments won’t change anyone’s mind, instead, I will write about my experiences in the Irish dance world.
I danced for many years. It was wildly different than it is today. During my dancing years, I attended two different schools with two different teachers. They were wonderful women who were outstanding role models. I was always encouraged to do my best. They made me believe nothing was impossible if I only tried. While I did okay, I would never be a World Champion. That was alright because it wasn’t something I strived to be. That did not bother my teachers. I still got the same attention and love that the kids who might reach those levels did. They instilled in me a drive to always do my best and the ability to face defeat in a positive manner.
While I loved going to Feisanna (Irish dance competitions) and have wonderful memories from those days, those aren’t the memories I cherish the most. My most vivid memories are from St. Patrick’s Day season shows, parades, and after-parties with friends and the people who became our dance family.
Most of my cherished memories took place in a tiny house. The house was wall-to-wall packed with people. The scent of Corned Beef and Cabbage wafted through the room making everyone’s stomach grumble. On the table was the world’s best brown and soda bread. A man stood in a doorway playing guitar and singing Irish songs, while us kids tried to sing along. Every once in a while, us girls would dance a few steps. We all patiently waited for the phone call that would tell us if our float won a prize. When we won, the crowd erupted in cheers, when we didn’t, the crowd still celebrated. The music, the dancing, and the craic continued into the night. The house may have been small, but the love that was in that house was insurmountable!
We were a family that went beyond Irish dance. Years later, we are still in each other’s lives. When I had my own children, there was no doubt in my mind that would at least try Irish dancing. If they didn’t like it, that was okay. My decision to put them in dance was to give them the same opportunities I had, to give them the ability to make lasting memories and build lifelong friendships.
My daughter competes a lot. She practices way more than I ever did. She sets a goal and works hard until she achieves it. Some goals take longer than others, but she doesn’t give up.
My son dances because his sister does. He has no desire to quit, but he has no goals or drive to achieve them. He is happy to go to class, as well as happy to miss class. His teachers know that and thoroughly support him, regardless. At our school, the teachers allow each dancer to have their own path. Some kids compete all the time, others don’t compete much at all. Some students are going to the World Championships or dream of going someday.
Our instructor, Meghan Torno, cultivates and guides them to achieve their individual goals. Some students only dance for fun and she supports them too. She understands each student has their own path, and she does not try to change that. The approach has not only been amazing for my kids, but for the school as a whole. The school keeps growing and seeing kids achieve their goals, both the small and big ones.
Besides hard work, Irish dance has taught my kids sportsmanship and camaraderie. My daughter has always had to compete against her closest friends. She wins some, and she loses some, but in the end, she cheers them on. Her happiness for them outweighs the disappointment that she feels. They all cheer each other on! The support these girls give each other is unlike anything I have ever seen. The teachers are all great role models. I would be honored to have my daughter look up to any of them.
My kids, especially my daughter, have made so many friends through dancing. This is why I put her in dance, to begin with. Mission accomplished! Some of these girls have danced together for nearly ten years, since preschool. These friendships will last a lifetime. They will all go their own way, college, careers, and maybe start their own families, but they will all be tied together through their love of Irish dance.
The close friends don’t just include girls from our Irish dance school, but from other schools as well. One of her good friends attends another local school. They have been competing against each other for years, but on and off the stage, they support each other. At a feis back in September, they both placed in their competition. My daughter placed fourth and her friend first. These were milestones for both of them. They were so proud of each other and were so happy to have achieved these placements together. In these moments, it doesn’t matter what school they go to; it is friendship that matters.
That is what it is all about! Outsiders see wigs, makeup, and expensive dresses. What they don’t see is the hard work, commitment, and love these children put into Irish dancing. They definitely don’t see the AMAZING memories and lifelong friendships that are forged. They choose to see what they want to see.
The experiences my children have dancing differ from my own. Of course, Irish dance has evolved greatly from the days I danced, but some things have stayed the same. The love of dance that is shared over generations has not changed. Most importantly, the friendships and families that are formed haven’t changed.
In the end, all the sacrifice and expense that comes with Irish dancing is worth it. What we get in return is priceless!
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