How old is too old to dance? Most people would agree that dancing can be enjoyable at any age.
"It's never too late to learn," says Johnny Cronin, owner of the Johnny Cronin School of Irish Dancing in Ireland, who recently certified to be an Irish dance adjudicator.
"I've heard so many times from adults that they wish they had the means when they were young to dance, and now as adults many now do."
There are a few adults in Irish dance that started their training as children, but many adults who Irish dance began taking lessons in adulthood - long past what most would consider a viable age for a champion. The World Irish Dance Association (WIDA) is changing the landscape of competition for adult Irish dancers, giving them a chance to compete for a world title.
Last week, at the World Irish Dance Association’s European and World Championships, held in Dusseldorf, Germany, more than 90 dancers over the age of 23 competed in six age groups. Annamarie Dardi, an adult Irish dancer from Ireland, is pleased to find that WIDA values adult dancers. "I always compare adult dancers to football or rugby players who are valued at the sport well after the teenage years, and it's nice that a dancing organization such as WIDA feels the same." The adult dancers, along with the younger age groups, gathered in Dusseldorf, Germany on April 19-21, 2014. Dancers hailed from thirteen countries and seventy-eight schools.
Other Irish dance organizations offer only limited opportunities for advancement for adults, or require them to compete against teens at the major competitions. The comparatively young organization of WIDA allows adult Irish dancers to compete at high levels, and against athletes of similar age. "WIDA has not only opened doors for people to learn Irish dance outside of Ireland, but the organization has really encouraged older dancers and lets them take their dancing as far as they want to," Cronin says. One of his adult dancers, Séamus O'Rourke, is the current World 2014 title holder in the over 35 category.
Word is spreading about the positive treatment adult Irish dancers find in WIDA. Catriona Newcombe, an adult Irish dancer and teacher (Echoes of Erin School of Irish Dancing) from Hong Kong was impressed with the events. "WIDA is an extremely friendly organization," Newcombe says. "Everyone was there (at Worlds) to support each other, and we all wished each other good luck and were genuinely please if someone danced well and placed. No where else have I seen everyone as enthusiastic about the senior dancers and cheered them on equally."
In recent years, attendance at WIDA's double major has increased, seeing a 25% rise between 2013 and 2014 alone. And it isn’t just the attendance of adult Irish dancers that is rising; the quality of the dancing is climbing as well. "The standard in WIDA is high, and over the years it is going to get better," says Séamus O'Rourke, current World 2014 title holder in the over 35 category. "I always felt that I was able to dance, but with other organizations I would have to compete against dancers in their teens or early 20's. WIDA changed that. I have been introduced to a new world."
As more adult dancers around the globe are given a chance to show what they are capable of, they will inspire many who have thought that they, also, were too old to dance. I have had the best experience of my life being part of the organisation WIDA," O'Rourke admits. "After 27 years away from the dancing world, WIDA has allowed me to go back to what is passionate in my life, that of dancing." And just because the Europeans and Worlds are over for 2014, doesn’t mean that the dancers are resting. They know that the standard will be even higher next year, and are already back to practice, the world over.