As I've been training for the World Irish Dance Association's European and World Championships, I've had a lot of different reactions from people. Those who don't dance are fascinated that a mom of five kids could qualify for and compete in something like a dance competition. Many of the dancers I meet tell me that they are inspired - they want to compete at World's someday.
'How do you do it?', they ask. 'Is it hard to juggle?' 'I bet you are excited, and that is so cool that you are working so hard.' 'Yes,' I say, 'it is hard work, it's a daily struggle to balance family life with my dreams, and I am so very excited.'
But for those of you who really are considering pursuing dancing as more than just exercise and a little fun, I want to go into a bit more detail.
I'm going to share with you the real, nitty gritty details of what lies ahead for an adult Irish dance competitor. That way, you know right up front what you are getting into.
Are you willing to devote the time that it takes to really get yourself ready? In addition to regular classes, if you decide to go to a world competition, you will likely attend extra classes and private lessons, spend many weekends at qualifying competitions, and you will need to set aside time every day for practice.
Competition can be very expensive. Yes, you can cut costs if you are smart. But if you consider that you will need to purchase a dress, a wig, shoes, socks, and accessories, and then factor in the travel costs it takes to attend qualifying feiseanna throughout the year, not to mention to the World competition itself, you might find that you can't quit your day job!
Your hobby will be a sacrifice for your family. If they are supportive, and they know that this is your thing—your dream, hopefully they will be willing to sacrifice their time and maybe some of the family's money for you. My teenagers are often at home, babysitting, instead of with their friends while I dance. My husband sacrifices date nights and goes without soda when money gets tight. Many times my entire family travels, waiting all day to watch me dance for just a few minutes. They know it is important to me, and I strive to make the same sacrifices for their dreams.
I had no idea when I began training for World's that I would go on such an emotional roller coaster. Daily I swing between confidence and the satisfaction that my body does what I tell it, to wondering what in the world I'm doing, and why I am putting so much time, energy, and money into a sport that is dominated by young girls. There are days when I hang my leaps and I feel on top of the world. And then other days my body screams at me, telling me that I'm not as young as I think.
Champion level Irish dance competitors are athletes. If you expect to become an athlete, you need to treat your body accordingly.
When I started dabbling in competition as an adult, I had given birth to two children, and I wasn't in the best shape. I continued to dance through 3 more pregnancies. My body was worn out, a stomach hernia kept me from using my core muscles, and a slipped disc in my back further complicated things. Time after time I pushed my body to its limits, injuring myself over and over. Two years ago I came to a crossroads: either I needed to step back and do Irish dancing as a weekly adult class, or I could really make the changes in my life that were necessary in order to be a true competitor. I feel like I could have chosen either path and been happy. I chose to get my body in shape and push myself. I hired a personal trainer, and began conditioning my body for Irish dancing. Cardio, weights, and nutrition, in addition to extra dance classes are a part of my weekly regimen.
I don't mean for this list to sound overwhelming, or discouraging. Quite the opposite! I couldn't be more pleased with the journey Irish dance has taken me on later in life. But competition is not for everyone.
If you decide that this is your passion, and you want to pursue competition (like me), I have some advice for you.
1. Make a plan
What is it you really want? Are you doing this to get in good shape? Or is the love of performance pushing you? Do you dream of being on the big stage, or are you simply wanting to what happens when you develop your talent? Deciding what your goals are, and what success looks to you is critical.
2. Gather a team
Recruit friends and family members as a support system. You will depend on them emotionally, and even financially. Make sure that they are okay with your goals and that they are willing to help you get there.
3. Go for it!
Put your whole self into it. Do what it takes to get where you are wanting to go. When you are tempted to quit, remember why you started.
4. Enjoy the ride
You've probably heard the phrase, it's not about destination, it's about the journey. Allow yourself to make mistakes, to feel deeply, to celebrate the small victories along the way. The end result isn't what you truly gain in the end—it's what you've learned on the journey that counts.
Are you an adult Irish dancer? What have you done to reach your goals?