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.

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