Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Perfect Picture

A Irish dancer could go their entire lives without any great shots of them in action. Irish dance is hard to capture in pictures; action shots are hard to take because we move so fast; and the beauty of irish dance is usually in the movement. Sure, we have great legs, but slow, picture perfect moments are few and far between. Of course, professional photographers are mastering the art of capturing Irish dancers in action, but not all of us have the luxury of being constantly photographed by the professionals. So when a great shot comes along, one has to live it up.

This photo was taken at the Galway Bay Irish Music Festival, and it's a favorite picture of myself for many reasons:

1. Straight legs and on the toes! There are so many pictures of great Irish dancers just coming out of a leap, or moving from one thing to the next, where their legs are bent at weird angles, or their feet just weren't pointed yet, I was lucky to be caught at exactly the right moment.
2. Posture. A constant battle for many Irish dancers, keeping that "shoulders back, head high" posture can be a challenge.
3. (Perhaps most importantly) This picture captures me dancing in the way I want to be remembered dancing. I love performing; I love dancing for people who are moved by irish music and irish culture. I love it when people tell me our performance made their night or how it reminded them of their home, or how they wish they could be dancing. I look happy in this picture; I look alive, I look like I'm doing something I love and believe in. It's not that Irish dance doesn't always make me happy, but it doesn't always photograph this way.

Here's to more great photos, and great days of dancing ahead!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The important work we're doing

People see The Seattle Irish Dancers and are often instantly hooked. Irish dance is rhythmic, upbeat, and FUN. It looks accessible, people tend to feel like it's something they could do, or at least it looks like something they wish they could do. I can't even count the number of people who have come up to me after a show and said "I wish I could do what you're doing, you look like you're having so much fun!" I'm not denying the truth of this. Irish dancing is fun. It's not the ballet (though I would argue it's as hard, if not harder than ballet). It resonates with audiences because its accessible. No one wants to watch ballet dancers (or even contemporary dancers) perform with they relax and have a pint. Irish dancing is truly suitable for all audiences, and it's a great time, every time.

With all this fun involved, I sometimes forget the importance of what the Seattle Irish Dancers are doing (or hope to be doing, now and in the future). Not only are we doing something we absolutely love (who can deny that the world needs more people doing what they love?) but we are real life promoters of the importance of art in our lives. We are cultural ambassadors. We are literally keeping an art form alive every time we dance. Sometimes I think about this and get extremely overwhelmed. Then I think about the fact that I teach dance as well, and at some point hope to take my TCRG (the exam to be a qualified Irish Dance teacher). Every time I teach a dancer how to do a skip 2,3, I'm passing on a traditional movement. Yikes!

Traditional dance is especially important in American culture. American's (as a general rule) don't really know how to dance. I think we used to know (people came to America from all over the world, the rest of the world knows how to dance just because, yada yada) but we've lost it somewhere along the way. People are amazed at dancers; professional dancers have been raised up and hailed as phenomenons. I'm not saying professional dancing is not impressive, I'm just saying it's so impressive because so many of us have no concept of using our bodies to move in an expressive way. We are at a point in our culture where someone has to teach us to move. We feel that we have to go to a studio and pay money to learn how to do something that our bodies naturally want to do anyway. Don't get me wrong--no normal person's body automatically wants to do ballet. The same goes for Irish dancing, and jazz and modern etc. But a certain amount of body awareness is certainly engrained in us, we've just hidden it away under layers of embarrassment.

Because of this, I feel that the pressure's on. I feel like as the only performance based Irish Dance company in Seattle right now, we have some big shoes to fill. So far, we've been up to the challenge, but I never want to forget the real reasons we're doing this, we can't let the fun get in the way.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A brief history of my relationship with Irish Dance

In high school, I abruptly quit Irish dancing after years of dedication. I had spent countless hours practicing, performing, going to class, driving to competitions, flying to competitions. I did ballet 5 times a week to help train my body. It was something I loved. I loved learning new steps, I loved being on stage, when I was younger, I loved competing against other dancers.

I fell out of love with dance when I was 15. I was burned out; I wasn't sure why I was doing it anymore, and I didn't put enough time in it to be good at it. I still went to class, and I still loved to perform, so it stayed a part of my life. I really let go of it after I traveled to South Africa with an HIV/AIDS organization. I got back from this trip and felt like Irish dance was the most ridiculous thing in the world. How could I ethically spend hours practicing, performing and competing when so much of the world had so little? I was frustrated with my teacher for thinking that my lack of motivation for Irish dance was important. I was frustrated with my dance friends for choosing dance over anti poverty rallies or fundraisers. I was frustrated with my family for asking me to keep going to dance class, at least until I graduated high school. I went to college without looking back at my Irish dance life-I cut ties completely, and laughed at myself and my silly little dress and wig and shoes. I mocked the culture of Irish dance to no end, as my college friends giggled at pictures of me in the dance regalia.

The end of university came abruptly. I had long since realized that my trip to South Africa had done very little good for the world, and had mixed feelings about the amount of good I, as an outsider, could do for a culture I knew nothing about. I graduated without a clue of what to do with my life; I had a degree in sociology now, and no desire to use it. A friend brought me to a dance class-an adult ballet class at a studio downtown. I was like the cartoon characters that get hit on the head with a frying pan and then have major realizations. This was all I wanted to do. I hadn't felt happy like this in a long time. I went back to the class, and added about 10 more classes a week. Eventually I started working with a modern dance company, I was dancing at last 4 hours a day again, and knew dance was what I was supposed to be doing. Something was still missing though, and I couldn't kid myself about it any longer.

The first trip back to my old dance school, with my old dance teacher, was terrifying. I was truly nauseated I was so nervous. I was afraid he would feel angry or hurt that I had left in such bad form. I was even more afraid that he wouldn't take me back. I think I was most afraid that I had been gone for too long, and my body wouldn't work the right way anymore. He wasn't angry, and he did take me back. Like a guru from a fantasy novel, he said, "I've seen every kid do this, they always come back. I always knew you loved it." Though my first two fears were instantly irrelevant, my worst fear was equally instantly confirmed, my body didn't know how to Irish dance anymore, and didn't respond the way I had hoped. But I kept coming, and eventually it felt like my favorite thing in the world to be doing again.

I competed at our World Qualifier 6 months after coming back. I wish I could say I made a smashing comeback, but I did not. I tried again a year later, again, no come back. But I'm going again this year, and I'm feeling better about it. I feel fulfilled. I feel that I love what I'm doing. I feel that I'm using my life to do something I love. I sometimes have to remind myself that what I'm doing is important, but I don't take as much convincing anymore.

I have a friend (a ex-competitive Irish dancer herself) who cannot wrap her head around why I want to keep competing well into my 20's. She absolutely thinks I should stop as soon as possible. She thinks I'm too old, I need to move on, I need to take my teachers exam and get on with my life. I have to remember that I'm not doing this to impress her, or the other naysayers in the Irish dance community. I'm competing because I love to dance, it motivates me to get better, it makes my body feel good. Since I've been back at dancing, I've seen at least 4 adults my age come back to competition, within my school alone. One girl says she'll stop when she's 30 (maybe). One girl is already in her 30's. One of them is my sister, who still beats me every single time we compete against each other. This doesn't count the dancers in the Seattle Irish Dance Company, who all thought Irish dance couldn't be a part of their lives either. I don't know how long my body will let me do this, but I do know I will never let Irish dance get out of my life again.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I'm glad I'm not an accountant


First dates, awkward bar conversation, small talk....all these settings usually result in the same question: "so.... what do you do for work?"
I don't love this question. Not because I don't love my job, but because I know what I'm about to see. I usually take a deep breath, prepare myself and say, "I'm an Irish dancer."This is wear the conversation gets interesting. First, the person who asked the question gets up from wherever they were sitting, moves chairs and tables out of their way, and flails their limbs around for an uncomfortably long time. "You mean like this?!" They always ask, pleased with themselves. Some of them are frighteningly serious about their interpretation.
"Yes," I think, "people pay me to teach their children how to do that. Sometimes, if I'm not feeling adventurous, I tell them I'm a ballet teacher (I do that to). Not once has someone shown me their adaptation of Swan Lake. Hard to believe, but it really is that simple. I just put on some Irish drinking songs, tell the children to put their arms down, and then just move their legs in interesting patterns. When they are good enough at that, they move to the advanced level, it's very similar to the beginning level, but they wear loud shoes on their feet."
Of course, this is not what I say. I laugh with them, humour them. Allow them to mock my lifestyle in front of me.
I wonder if people in other lines of work have similar encounters. Sometimes, if I'm not feeling adventurous, I tell them I'm a ballet teacher (I do that to). Not once has someone shown me their adaptation of Swan Lake. I am grateful for what I get to do every day, and having someone make fun of me (maliciously or otherwise) at a bar is a small price to pay for getting to live a life that I cherish. And, let's face it, watching a grown man hop around at a bar is a lot less painful than attempting to make accounting sound interesting.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Because Irish Dancers are People Too.

I have recently achieved my childhood dream, well, the most important one anyway. It was to live with the girls I danced with, have a dance studio in our house and spend most of our lives practicing, talking about and planning ways to do more Irish dancing.

It happened organically, we started an Irish dance company (another dream come true!!!), got to know each other quickly via arguements about dance technicalities and started trying to make money Irish dancing. Three of us needed new spaces to live, we needed a place to practice and voila! the Seattle Irish Dance House was born.

Irish dancing has always been a personality defining trait for me, if I didn't live it, I'm not sure what I would live. People seem to be facisnated by it; they wonder why we do it, how we do it? They wonder if we all have Irish dance fetishes (we don't!) They stop in the middle of the sidewalk, mouths hanging  open to watch us practice. Some think it's too easy to even be considered dancing, (for example:, some think it's physically impossible and we must be magical creatures. The truth of the matter is that non-Irish dancers are either very uninformed, misinformed or just plain curious. This is a blog about our lives (like many blogs are) but we happen to be Irish dancers.