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The first place essay from the Orange County Feis 2009 essay competition, "What Irish Dancing Means To Me," was written by 12-year-old Irish dancer with the Sheahan-Gormley School, Kristin Normoyle of Orange County, New York. Normoyle told IrishCentral: "I have two passions: writing and Irish dancing.  When I found out that I had won first place with an essay about Irish dancing, it felt twice as awesome.” 

Here’s her prize-winning piece:

“What Irish Step Dancing Means To Me”

Irish Step Dancing is a type of performance originating in Ireland.

I think this is too small of a definition for something that has had the biggest impact of my life. Most people think that Irish dancing is all sparkly dresses and big, fancy trophies. But the passion and effort that goes behind step dancing is astonishing. Several days a week girls and boys are running to classes to perfect their steps for the next big competition, or feis. Dedication is very important. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears take place during a practice. 

While parents are trying to get the wig and makeup ready for the big feis and dance instructors are pulling their hair out for the students to do a step the correct way, something is happening to the dancer. Something that can’t be explained with words, something bigger then words. A feeling is running through the dancer’s veins, racing through their heart and soul, finally making the last stop at the dancer’s feet. This feeling is a passion, a love. Something that true dancers feel every time they are in front of a judge, dance instructor, or even a mirror. A love for the dance and a love for the sport is one of the greatest feelings someone can have. This is the only way I know how to describe it. 

When I was little, I was going to do what many other little girls do at that age. I was going to sign up for ballet. It was the cool thing to do. The morning before the sign up there was an Irish festival at which my dad’s pipes and drums band was asked to perform.   As usual, my mother and I tagged along to support him. Following their performance was something I had never seen before.       

Out of nowhere, a reel filled the room. A group of girls walked on stage wearing curly wigs, sparkly dresses, and white, bumpy socks. They started kicking their legs and hoping all over the place, but it had an elegance that I didn’t understand back then. But I did enjoy the show and it was all I talked about for the rest of the day. My mother realized that I belonged in an Irish Step Dancing class rather then a ballet studio. I was ecstatic.

A few years later, when I was in the novice category, I had a new dress, a new wig, new shoes, and a new love for the dance. Now I was more mature then when I was a beginner. My competition was to be held in the room next to the open championships, but it started after their awards. My mom and I were early, so we watched the champions compete. The weightlessness of their feet and the effort I saw was magnificent. These girls were on the tips of their toes, and nothing moved above their hips. There kicks flew high above there heads. There steps were much more complicated then mine, but that only made it even more amazing. Ever since that day, I practice to look just like those girls. 

With blisters covering ever square inch of my feet, and my dance CD skipping from being played so much, I was ready for yet another feis.

Even when the all the work gets to be too much and I feel like quitting, I just remember why I’m dancing and what I feel like when I’m dancing. My love and passion for the dance is always stronger then those rare occasions of never wanting to dance again. I hope I always feel this way about dancing.

That is what Irish Step Dancing means to me.