This letter, written in 2014, by a passionate 16-year-old Irish dancer explains eloquently what it means to be a traditional Irish dancer
In the letter below 16-year-old dancer from Connecticut writes in response to Cahir O’Doherty’s opinion piece “Why Irish dancing has lost its way and needs to change.”
Dear Mr O’Doherty,
I came across your article “Why Irish dancing has lost its way and needs to change,” and I was disgusted with the hyperbolic accusations with which you attacked the world of Irish dance. I am a 16-year-old Irish dancer from Connecticut. I have been dancing for six years, and there is nothing else that I love more. Reading your article, I was enraged and offended by your remarks.
First, you state that the dresses are overly expensive. Well, I’ve got news for you – a lot of clothing is expensive. These dresses are so pricy because they are manufactured by individual seamstresses and designers who spend hours upon hours to make a $1,000 dress perfect.
How can you criticize this, but not designer bags manufactured by in a foreign country, made out of a slaughtered animal’s skin, and go around for $3,000 dollars a tote?
In addition, Irish dancers are not the only ones who spend outrageous amounts of money on costumes – actors, ballerinas, and other types of dancers can spend up to $500 per year, per costume. Also, you emphasize how tacky the costumes are. See, Mr. O’Doherty, the key word here is costume.
Costumes are made to be worn on a stage in a performance. How are brightly colored Irish dancing dresses tacky, yet bright, sparkly, costumes worn by other types of dancers and performers are not? Yes, they were not always brightly colored and dripping in crystals, but you don’t need to be a sociologist to figure out that just like everything else in this world, Irish dance has evolved and changed with time.
Tradition is defined as: the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way. Nowhere in the dictionary does it say these customs and beliefs are not subject to minor changes and natural evolution.
Colorful, bright Irish dancing dresses have been around for a long time, and they are our tradition, despite your coining them as “flashy Irish dancing fakes.” Because, Mr O’Doherty, the answer to your question “Where is Ireland in this?” is quite clear.
Ireland is in the dances we perform with pride, in the music that brings us joy, in the friendships we make through dancing, and in Irish dance itself, passed down from around the 16th century. No matter what we look like (which we also happen to be quite proud of), that tradition will always be firmly rooted in our hearts.
Second, you accuse Irish dance of looking like a “weird hybrid” of pageantry and kickboxing. Yes, Irish dance does look strange at one’s first glance. However, most can look past that artificial surface and see a beautiful performance. It’s a shame that you don’t have this ability. You also accuse it of having a “flashy, friendly exterior.” That friendliness that you say is on the so called “exterior” happens to extend to the very core of Irish dance itself.
The girls I have met through competition are some of the nicest people I have ever met. And yes, we are competitors on stage, but as soon as we walk off that stage, we are the best of friends. There is a bond of camaraderie among almost all Irish dancers that is impossible to put into words. The girls at my dance school are my family. Through Irish dancing, I have discovered a bond stronger and closer than that of a family. It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you live, where you come from, or what the color of your skin is. People not only accept you for who you are and what you can do, but they also respect that.
Mr O’Doherty, can you think of anything else where you can find that kind of acceptance? We are really competing with ourselves – trying to become the best versions of ourselves we can be.
Lastly, you say the “hyper-competitive” world of Irish dance projects anxiety onto young girls finding their way in the adult world. Are you meaning to say that young girls who Irish dance aren’t already subject to the crazed, competitive world out there? The Irish dance world and the “Muggle” world of reality are one and the same – if anything, it helps them to come to terms with the adult world, and cope with already existing anxiety.
The college application process for high schoolers is so competitive that it pushes many teens to their breaking points. One of the leading causes of suicide in teens is stress or depression, caused by anxiety that they feel like they will never be good enough. Pressure on young girls to have the right clothes, phone, boyfriend, group of friends, a big house, you name it - is enormous.
Mr O’Doherty, there is just no way that these young dancers were first introduced to anxiety through dance. In a world where these young adults are yelled at by adults and society on a daily basis that they will never be more than an average businessman or woman later on in life, and where they are discouraged from following their dreams, isn’t it good for them to have something to strive for? Isn’t it valuable for them to experience the feeling when their hard work pays off? Isn’t it a character-building experience to have a goal, achieve it, and achieve personal growth along the way?
I can’t even begin to imagine my life without dance. It is about so much more than curly wigs and sparkly dresses and has taught me that yes, life is competitive, but I have a shot of attaining success.
You are right when you say Irish dance is an art. However, the athleticism, mental focus, and dedication it takes to make that art look easy takes the physique, training regimen, and diet of an Olympian. It takes an incredible amount of focus and a huge amount of dedication and passion. And for you to undermine and disrespect that is not only offensive and discriminatory to the Irish dancing community, but misleading to the people who are not a part of what you call our “alternate universe,” with whom we so desperately want to share our sport and our love for it.
* Originally published in 2014.