A Gathering Place for Adults Who Love Irish Dance

Friday, December 31, 2010

75 Best Irish-Interest Articles and Posts of 2010

One of my articles on Diddlyi just won an award from Irishfireside. Check it out!

The article, Cuchulain, The Celtic Hercules, has been recognized as one of the top 75 best Irish-interest articles and posts of 2010 under the "A Look at Irish Culture" category.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Interview with S.J. Velasquez-Dancing Again as an Adult

S.J. Valesquez is a fellow Feis America writer and adult Irish dancer.  She started Irish dancing when she was eleven, and recently took up Irish dancing again as an adult.  I asked S.J. to share with us her unique perspective on dancing Irish as a teen and an adult.  You can read her blog on Feis America.

How long have you been dancing?

I started when I was 11, and I'm now 25. I danced competitively with Rince na Tiarna (Buffalo, NY) through my teens and retired from competition at age 20. I recently competed for the first time in five years -- on an adult ceili team! -- for the Johnston School (Syracuse, NY).

As a dancer who competed as a teen and an adult, have you found the stress of dancing to be harder on your body physically? Do you learn the steps equally as quickly?

I actually had a harder time when I was in my early teens. I was definitely a chubby adolescent! I lost a considerable amount of weight in high school and college -- that's when dancing was the easiest on my body. I was stronger, and there was less weight to carry. Since college, my weight fluctuated and body changed, making dance more challenging as the pounds came back. But, to be honest, I am the physically the strongest I've ever been. I recently started running long distances (did my first half marathon in May) and have found that the best runners are typically not the younger runners -- the best are those who've been training and tuning their bodies over the years. The running scene has given me a new perspective on Irish dance and what our bodies are capable of doing after what's believed to be our physical peak.

But I must admit, there were a few years during and after college where I hadn't really danced at all. Getting back into dancing was very awkward and frustrating. It felt like my body couldn't keep up with my brain. Moves and techniques that I once could do without much thought were suddenly very difficult to execute. It wasn't so much my age that was holding me back as it was my lack of practice. I found a really great school in New York City -- the Aherne Sheehan School -- that helped me get my Irish dance groove back :)

Is there anything about Irish dancing as an adult that you like better than when you danced as a teen?

Absolutely. As an adult in the media world (I'm a journalist and web producer), I connect with Irish dancers on a whole different level. As a youth, I mingled with friends at dance class and made feis buddies, but I didn't really interact with dancers beyond my region. Now I connect with dancers of all ages and levels from around the world, and I maintain many of those relationships through social networks and travel. I even briefly interviewed my Irish dance idol, Jean Butler, at the World Irish Dancing Championships in 2009. It's amazing when you grow up gawking over the stunning beauty that is Riverdance, and suddenly you're interviewing the star of the show.

So, as a teen, my Irish dance circle was very local. Now it's a global network. I look forward to meeting up with international dance friends at events. And I particularly meeting up with dance friends for an adult beverage after class or performance. Couldn't do that as a teen ;)

Do you feel any animosity from others because you dance as an adult?

Sadly, yes. I admit that when I was younger, I snickered at the sight of adult beginners. That was completely childish and prejudice of me. I realize now that Irish dance adults are extremely talented and devoted, and they're capable of reaching great heights when their teachers and fellow dancers support them and challenge them. So often, dancers that start later in life are not taken seriously, and they may never reach their full potential. I personally feel just as capable of learning steps and training as I did when I was 14. But there aren't as many people who are willing to take me as a student now that I'm *GASP* 25! (I'll turn 26 on Dec. 7.)

What do you miss about competition from your teens?

I miss dancing as a soloist. I am very fortunate to have found a school in Syracuse that teaches adult ceilis, but I would love to compete as a soloist. I didn't feis a lot growing up (roughly three feiseanna a summer from age 13 to 18), but I worked my way up to preliminary championship level and placed regularly. I always wanted to make it to open championship level, but I never really had the chance to continue competing as an "and-over" lady. I miss wearing my hardshoes, too. Ceilis are great, but there's something magical about the rhythm of a slow treble jig or hornpipe.

What do you think the future holds for adults in Irish dance?

Adult dancers are getting better and better. I look at school's like O'Rourke (in New York), and I'm blown away by how talented the adult dancers are. It proves that Irish dance is something you can enjoy and master at different ages. I recently competed at the Mid-Atlantic Region Oireachtas with the Johnston adult team, and I could not believe how tough the competition was. The level of talent in the top adult ceili teams is definitely at par with the youth categories. Any preconceived notions about adult dancers that I had were completely shattered as I watched -- in awe, slack-jawed -- the adult ladies four- and eight-hand rounds.

How long do you intend to Irish dance? Will you drop down in &overs?

I'll dance for as long as I can physically dance. My Irish grandfather (I'm of very mixed ancestry) was always so proud of me for taking up Irish dance. He loved dancing around with me, his only Irish-dancing grandchild. Shortly after having one of his leg's amputated due to a diabetes-related infection, he propped himself up on one leg and hopped around the room while exclaiming, "I can still jig!" I figure, if my grandfather was dancing a one-legged jig, there's no reason I should stop dancing while I have two perfectly good legs. :)

Right now, I really don't have the opportunity to drop down to &overs, unfortunately. I haven't been able to find teachers in my area who cater to the 21-and-over solo dancers.

What is the best thing about dancing as an adult?

Irish dance has really shaped much of my social life, and it's now more apparent than ever. As an adult, I can appreciate what dancing has done -- and continues to do -- for me. I was a bridesmaid in my friend Rachel's wedding a few years ago. Rachel and I met through dancing when we were about 13 years old. And my friend Connor -- with whom I danced at Rince na Tiarna -- took up Irish dance classes with me when we both relocated to New York City. There's something about dancing friends that makes them different from your friends from school or work. It's like the bonds are enhanced because of this common interest and talent.

Also, as an adult, I'm interested in what Irish dance means. These last few years, I've been intrigued by the history of Irish dance and how it's developed over the years. Different styles reflect regional trends and cultural evolution, yet it ties me to a piece of my ancestry. I can identify, in some small way, with my ancestors through dance.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Winners of Irish Dance Gear Giveaway!

Congratulations to the two winners of $20 gift certificates to iheartthatdance and Keilys!

And the winners are: Kelly and Melissa

Welcome to my new followers-I'm thrilled to connect with so many people who love Irish dancing! 

Just as a fun side note, Irish dancers and MAIDs from all over the United States, Isreal, Australia, Germany, France, Romania, England, and Costa Rica entered the contest.  Isn't it great that there are so many people all over the world that love ID?  Funny, no one from Ireland entered the contest. :)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Michael Flatley Proves that Adults can Irish Dance

Of course you know that I am an adult who loves to Irish dance.  After battling an unknown illness, Michael is back on tour in Europe Riverdancing.  What an inspiration to those of us who are dancing past 20 years of age.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Irish Dance Gear Giveaway!

This is a shout out to anyone who loves Irish dance!

When I started this site, I made a lot of friends around the world who share in my love of all things Irish dancing.  Unfortunately, because I had my blog on wordpress, I had no way of allowing those friends to follow me.  Now that I am on blogspot, you can follow my posts with Google Friend Connect.  Just click the follow button on the right and enter my giveaway through this form

I Heart That Dance and Keilys.com have teamed up to offer a great prize package- $40 worth of Irish dance gear!  The contest will run until Monday, November 8, 2010. 

Special thanks to Diddlyi.com for helping promote the contest.

Two lucky followers will win.  One will receive a $20 gift certificate to I Heart That Dance where they can purchase great accessories and custom gifts like:

Another lucky winner will receive a $20 gift certificate to Keilys.com and choose from great supplies and gifts like:

Enter the contest here.  Good luck!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

MAID Service: A Mother Joins the Ranks

*This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of Feis America Magazine

The night before my son’s first feis I readied our costumes, gathered safety pins and first-aid supplies, and printed off the feis syllabus. I sat and taught him what to expect from the few feisanna I had attended.

“Make sure to smile while you are dancing,” I counseled, “And don’t forget to bow to the judge.”

He showed a good mix of confidence and nerves. “I’m pretty good at Irish dance, so maybe I will get a trophy,” he said, then backtracked with, “Probably I won’t get anything.”

I put my arm around him. “I really don’t know if you will place or not, but if you do what we’ve practiced and show everyone how much you love to dance, it will be a fun trip.”

Early the next morning we arrived at the feis. None of my careful planning could have prepared me for what I felt when we walked into the arena. My stomach performed a leap-over as I watched Ethon take in the vast room.

“Now concentrate on just the first dance,” I told him as I pinned on his number and straightened his tie.

Trying not to hover, I wished him luck and walked to the bleachers. Remembering additional motherly advice, I doubled back to the edge of the stage, but Ethon had already struck up a conversation with the boy next to him, unruffled by the impending contest. It appeared that I had enough nerves for the both of us.

Accordion music filled the air. He pointed his toe on count five and took off with a smile. It felt unreal, watching my child compete. My heart slowed to a trot and I rubbed my arms where they had gone numb and tingly.

Leaping and cutting across the floor, he danced with a fluid grace that spoke of his love for Irish dance. He performed every step just as we had practiced it, and then topped his bow off with a smile to the judge.

The silly grin of a proud mother spread across my face. Who would have thought that a person could get so much satisfaction out of someone else’s success?

My son continued through his dances, nailing some and struggling on others. To my relief, he had no trouble keeping track of where to be and what dance to perform.

“I am so proud of you!” I yelled as Ethon came to find me in the bleachers. He grinned and shoved a fist full of medals towards me.

Together we waited for the treble reel placements to be announced. Fourth place, then third took their spots on the podium. Ethon gripped the back of the seat in front of him, repeating the word “please” in a whisper.

Here it comes, I thought. What would I say to him if he didn’t place?

Second place came and went, and my heart sank. Well, there are lessons to be learned in defeat as well as victory, I told myself.

“First place goes to...”

It’s hard to say who was more stunned when my son’s name was read, he or I. He got over the shock first and walked up to the podium, a smile bursting across his face.

In a moment that any “mother addicted to Irish dance” (MAID) can relate to, I realized that the only thing more gratifying than personal victory is watching someone whom you care about succeed.

When it came time to compete in my own dances, my nerves felt like butterflies compared to the gut-wrenching tension of watching my son dance. Although dancing in the adult competition was a delight, the real joy came as I watched my boy clutch his first trophy to his chest, confidence shining in his eyes.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Old Guy Clicks up Heels at (almost) half a century young

*This article first appeared in the Sep/Oct issue of Feis America Magazine

Before signing up for Irish dance lessons at age 44, Mark Pottinger (a.k.a. “Old_Guy” on dance.net), had never taken any kind of dance. After watching Irish dancers on St. Patrick’s Day, Mark signed his then seven-year old daughter up for lessons at the Bennett School of Irish Dance in Denver, Colorado.

When Mark couldn’t answer his daughter’s dance questions, another father suggested that he take a class or two. He signed himself up for an adult session and he was hooked. Mark and his daughter began feising and it wasn’t long before they were both placing in competition.

Although Mark acknowledges the struggles that come with dancing as an adult, he knows firsthand how fulfilling it can be. In November 2009, at 48 years of age, Mark attended the Western Regional Oireachtas in Denver, Colorado. He placed fourth in his competition, qualifying for the 2010 World Irish Dancing Championships in Glasgow, Scotland.

“This sport has been a fantastic opportunity for me to share an activity with my daughter,” Mark says. “We get to spend time together.”

Having a family member who competes has its challenges. Mark often finds himself running between stages, balancing his own dances with his daughter’s. As a result, dance steps are not the only new skills Mark has acquired while dancing with his daughter; he’s learning what it takes to get a teenager ready at a feis. “[Fastening] a wig is an engineering problem, all about transferring loads to anchor points,” Mark says. “And the makeup I pretty much do as a paint by numbers.”

Mark realizes that it takes him a bit longer than younger dancers to master steps. He counts himself lucky to have supportive teachers at the Bennett School of Irish Dance. “A lot of TCs simply would not or could not invest the time it takes to teach an older dancer like me,” he says. Mark has an agreement with his teachers: if it’s time for him to stop dancing, and he’s not realizing it on his own, they will let him know.

Like many people in their 40’s, Mark lives with pain. Recently, his type of pain has been diagnosed as Sj√∂gren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease similar to rheumatoid arthritis. Still, he doesn’t let the pain get in the way of his dancing.

“I think we just can’t expect to be pain-free past a certain age, so I do my best to work through it,” Mark says.

When Mark placed all of his dances in the adult Prizewinner category, he ran out of room to advance. Dropping from adult levels to the “&Overs” was a natural progression. Mark mentions that his adult status in &Overs has been well received in the Western Region, especially by his competitors.

Mark believes that “with proper training and conditioning, there is no physical reason adults can’t continue to advance.” He has a few ideas of what the future might hold for adults in Irish dance. Perhaps a champion or “masters” level will be instated, similar to the masters competitions that are held in other sports, like golf and swimming. Or maybe the adult division will be dissolved and integrated simply as “over20,” “over30” and so on, as some sanctioning organizations have already adopted. No matter how the dance evolves, Mark is confident that the future participation of adults is bright.

Mark plans on attending the World Irish Dancing Championships in March. He practices six days a week, in addition to three or four weekly lessons. Mark plans on enjoying at least three feisanna with his daughter between now and March. If his body is still is holding up, Mark will take the only chance he may get to compete at Worlds.

Even with the obstacles that face Mark, he is optimistic. To the beginner dancer who starts at an advanced age, Mark counsels, “You will have physical discomfort, but you probably will [even] if you don’t dance.”
And how long will Mark continue to dance? “Until my body gives out or I feel like I’m no longer doing justice to the sport.” Let’s hope that’s a long time coming.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Liffey Rivers and the Mystery of the Sparkling Solo Dress Crown by Brenna Briggs

Food to eat while reading: Pre-feis Spaghetti and Meatballs (come back tomorrow for the Tasty Tuesday recipe)

What I liked:

Liffey is a spunky, quirky girl who dreams of qualifying for a solo dress and eats spaghetti and meatballs the night before every competition. Because of her overbearing personality, no one, including the reader, can anticipate what she will do next.

The author pulls the reader into two new worlds that they may never otherwise explore. The first is the world of Irish dance. Second, she gives us a feel for the city of St. Louis, Missouri.

Read the full review here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Interview with Irish Dance Writer Heidi Will

Heidi Will is the author and illustrator of The Ghillie Girls. She based her book on the experiences she and her friends had in Irish dance. Heidi is expecting her first child in March, and her friend, who is also represented in the book, is expecting a child on March 17th-St. Patrick's Day. Visit Heidi online at http://www.ghilliegirls.com/.

Read the interview here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

John Cullinane's Complete Works

Today when I checked my mail, I had a large package containing John Cullinane's complete works on the history of Irish dance. I did an Irish jig at the mailbox. I am not kidding.

For awhile now I have been wanting to know about the real history of Irish dance. Most of Celtic history (and Ireland history) was passed down by word of mouth and there is very little written on the history of Irish dance. I have a story in my head that wants to take place during the ban in Ireland of all things cultural.  In order to make the book an historical fiction, I really need to know my stuff.  Can you see why I am so excited?

 Expect to see some reviews of Mr. Cullinane's work, which are considered to be the most comprehensive volumes written about Irish dance history, featured here in the near future,

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kaylee's Choice by Rod Vick

Food to eat while reading: Delicious Dilemma Chips and Dips

What I liked:
Kaylee’s relationship with her dad is realistic. Although they have disagreements and don’t always agree, father and daughter love and sacrifice for each other. The fact that her father wanted her to take soccer because he had loved it addresses the whole "stage mother" issue that I try not to succumb to with my own children.

I also relate to Kaylee's attept at prioritizing. Daily I look at the various activities and responsiblities my children and I have taken on and try to keep them in perspective. Which is most important? Can the laundry wait until tomorrow? How can we compromise and keep everyone happy? more...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Ghillie Girls: Irish Dance Pals by Heidi Will

What to eat while reading: Sugar Cookie Dolls*

*For the next few months I will be reviewing Irish dance related books, along with my usual YA reviews. To go along with the Irish books, I will be trying various Irish recipes(watch for Sugar Cookie Dolls to be posted as soon as I test it in my kitchen).

Brightly colored and easy to read, The Ghillie Girls introduces Irish dance in a fun format that will appeal to those who want to know more about Irish dance, and those who already love it.
What I liked:

The book introduces four very different girls who have one thing in common: a love for Irish dance. Heidi Will uses these girls to illustrate the terms and language that is unique to Irish dance. Vocabulary blurbs define the words that are sometimes foreign to the beginning Irish dancer. more...

The Secret to Finding Gold at the End of the Rainbow

You may have heard that a man will become rich by following a rainbow to its end, where fabled leprechauns squirrel away their gold. Are the legends true? Can something be had for nothing?

Leprechauns are tricky fellows; they lure the unsuspecting on an impossible quest. To the mythological laborer, assurance of easy riches is a powerful siren that calls him away from the daily grind toward a magical life of ease. He leaves all that he has worked for and drifts toward the allusive rainbow, always just out of reach.

Scientifically, we understand that the rainbow is an optical effect that depends on the location of the viewer. The closer we try to get to its end, the further away the bow will drift.

A rainbow can be thought of in a different light: as a visionary goal. Think of the rainbow as a metaphor for a lofty goal that you have set for yourself. Does it seem so far away that you could walk forever and never reach it?

Unlike a physical rainbow, we have control over the attainability of our personal rainbows. I had a teacher in high school who drilled the importance of determined work into my brain, “Working will win, when wishy-washy wishing won’t,” he often quoted (Thanks Mr. C).

Think of the most successful people you know. Did they pine away after a get-rich-quick scheme or complain about how far away their goals were? If you take a close look at those people whom you admire, you will see a trend of hard work and determination. Probe a little further and those accomplished success stories will reveal a secret the leprechauns would rather you didn’t know: when they reached the end of their journey for success, it wasn’t the “pot of gold” at the end that gave them the satisfaction they had looked towards, it was the passage of time and work that became the real treasure.

Dictionary.com defines a pot of gold as the realization of all one’s hopes and dreams; ultimate success, fulfillment, or happiness. That kind of gold can be found at the end of anyone’s rainbow. Look for your own bow of light, and resist the urge to wait around for success to find you. Catherine Pulsifer, editor of Inspirational Words of Wisdom puts it another way, “Wishing for something occupies the mind, but leaves the bank empty. “

Work hard and keep your rainbow in view and your own pot of gold will be within grabbing distance. Just don’t forget to gather the valuable nuggets abounding from your efforts along the way.

*This article was originally published on DiddlyiMagazine on March 16, 2010
image source, image source

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Inspiring Irish Dance

This guy is amazing!  From the comments on YouTube I deduce that he placed high at World's this year. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Utah Adult Team Makes an Appearance at the WRO

This article first appeared in the July/August issue of Feis America Magazine.

Eight women from the Crawford School of Irish Dance made history when they became the first adult ladies team from the state of Utah to compete in a regional competition. In November, the team attended the Western Regional Oireachtas in Denver, Colorado.

After an early morning of preparation, the ladies danced their ceili. Some of them felt that they had never danced better. The audience agreed, and comments like “Nice altitude” followed them off the stage.

Suspense and anticipation built as the team waited to hear their results. When the five judges tallied their marks, the women were thrilled: they had received third place!

The delight of placing and the contagious excitement at the Oireachtas made the trip a success. But when the event was over and the ladies returned home, they agreed that the biggest bonus came from making Jill Crawford, their TCRG, proud of them.

So now that the Crawford adult team has made their debut, when will we see them next? Watch closely, you may catch a glimpse of them making history as the first adult team from Utah to attend Nationals in July!

Monday, May 24, 2010

How to Train Your Turn-out

Adult Irish dancers are more likely to get injured than their younger counterparts. But all dancers can benefit by taking action to prevent injury and increase their muscle strength. This article is the third in a series focusing on what adult dancers can do to maintain a healthy body.

If you dance Irish, chances are good that you have been told to work on turn-out. You make a mental note and begin your dance again, hoping that if you try hard enough, your feet will magical turn-out by themselves. Turning out is frequently talked about, but commonly misunderstood.
In her book, Inside Ballet Technique, author Valerie Grieg states that the extent to which an individual can rotate their legs is largely pre-determined by genetics. Muscle flexibility, the shape of hip bones and sockets, and the elasticity of ligaments contribute to the amount of natural turnout a person may have. Because of the genetics factor, Grieg is of the opinion that the action of turning out the leg is more important to movement than the angle that is attained. She does note that before the age of eleven the structure of the bone may be influenced by exercises.

But turn-out in your sport is a not an option, it’s a requirement.

So what’s a dancer to do? The answer may be as simple as a change of perception.

Dr. Jack Giangiulio, a dance injury chiropractor, says that at least 90% of poor hip turn out is caused by meager foot control (the other 10% can relate to a lack of lumbo-pelvic coordination, and genetics). Dr. Jack says, ”It is not usually about strength or even flexibility, it is just a matter of reconnecting (a dancer’s) neurology to coordinate the muscles.”

Try Dr. Jack’s simple suggestions to improve your turnout. A slow and steady approach to training the foot is best.

■First, check to make sure that your feet are in a neutral position:

While standing with your heels together, turn-out your feet. Ask a friend to place two fingers under the arch of your foot. If your friend’s fingers cannot fit under your arches, you are rolled-in. If more than two fingers fit under your arches, you are rolled-out. Repeat with your feet crossed over.

■Practice keeping your feet in a neutral position:

Resume standing with your heels together, making sure that the heel and all toes remain on the floor. Align your knees with your toes and hold the position for two minutes. Repeat in a crossed position. Daily repetition may be required for up to four weeks to re-train the muscles in your feet. Note: this position will require you to temporarily reduce your turn-out while your body re-trains.

■After you gain control over your feet, you can add exercises for increasing turn-out recommended by your dance teacher.

“The idea here is to teach the body that the hip, knees, and foot must always be in alignment, and to keep the foot in the neutral position.” Dr. Jack explains.

When your feet are turned out with greater foot control, your dancing will look nothing short of magical.

So do you use certain exercises to improve your turn-out?

You can find more articles on foot control by visiting Dr. Jack Giangiulio’s website http://www.danceinjurydoctor.com/.
This article originally appeared on Diddlyi Magazine.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Free copy of Feis America Magazine

"Feis America is the only family magazine for Irish dance enthusiasts in North America and beyond. The focus of the magazine is family, positive self image, health and the multi-generational bonds that unite us through our passion for Irish dance and culture. Littlies to grandparents will enjoy the rich editorial and adventures in every issue. A reasonably priced magazine that transcends time zones and region boundaries is a small way to feel a big connection!"

The folks at Feis America Magazine are thinking of releasing issues in a PDF format along with the hardcopy of the bi-monthly magazine.

The Irish dance magazine recently acquired Hornpipe Magazine, formally published by Bartleby Press out of Austin, Texas, since 1999.

According to the magazine's blog, international customers can order an online version of the North America-based magazine for a fee of $5.00.  If you live outside of North America, you can start brandishing your swords: now you can subscribe to North America's premier magazine for Irish dance enthusiasts. 

To try out the PDF version of the magazine, follow Feis America on twitter, or facebook, then send a note to efeisamerica@gmail.com and you will soon receive a link for a free copy of one of their issues.

Avoiding the Competition

Thanks to ScullyPA's  YouTube video, we now know exactly how to avoid competition at our next feis:

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Adult Eight-hand Team Prepares for Oireachtas

This article first appeared in the Mar/Apr 2010 issue of Feis America Magazine.    







     You might be tempted to think that the challenges of Irish dancing as an adult outweigh any benefits. 

     After all, adults may have a harder time scheduling lessons, learning steps, dealing with stage fright, and getting their feet to do what their brains want.  But where the body is weak, the spirit is determined.  Adults all over the worlare taking on the challenges and reaping the benefits of Irish dance.

     The women in the Crawford School of Irish Dance’s eight-hand team come from different parts of the country, have varied family demographics and may disagree on where to eat for girls’ night out, but they share a common bond:  a love of Irish dance, discovered later in life. It’s plain to see that the Utah team members are familiar with the struggles of adult Irish dancing, but also recognize the rewards that come with it.

     Adult competition, especially team figures, can be stressful.  Sarah Lindsay feels the strain. “There is still a little pressure to not let your teammates down,” she says.  “You definitely don't want to be the one who ruins it for the team.”

     Hillary Hoopes agrees, saying, “The team feels like a family and not only do I want to do better for myself, but I want to do better for them.”

     The pressure of performing together as a team can be challenging for adult dancers, who often have to balance their dance family with work and family at home.  Training for the 2009 Western Regional Oireachtas, the Crawford team found themselves juggling additional practices with their already busy schedules.

     “Balancing it is all about creating boundaries for yourself and allowing time for other things in your life,” says Hillary.

     Alyson McKean-Bown doesn’t mind the craziness; she says, “I like to be busy, and Irish dance is my sanity – I love it.”

     No matter how much they sacrifice for their dancing, adults often find themselves battling with negativity towards their pursuit of a hobby in later years.

      “People don’t take us as seriously because we are adults.  I wish we would get more recognition,” Alyson says.

     “Some schools will not teach adults.  They think it’s a waste of time,” Deedra Lambert adds. “They don’t understand what an asset we can be.  Adults help with feisanna and fundraisers, and contribute time to the schools.”

     With all of the pressures, juggling, and lack of recognition that come with adult dancing, you might question why adult dancers submit themselves to the rigorous art form.  Yet, if you ask any one of the Crawford’s adult team if all of the exertion is worth it, the answer will be an emphatic “Yes!”

     Adults are finding hidden treasures in Irish dance.  They are gaining new skills, boosting their exercise, and discovering lasting friendships. 

     Learning a new skill later in life can be daunting.  Sarah understands the frustration.  “I think a lot of adults can be hard on themselves when starting to compete in Irish dance,” she says, adding, “It gets easier, so just have fun and don't take yourself too seriously.”

     As they worked towards the Oireachtas, the team learned that physical fitness is a bonus that results from their Irish dancing.

     The women on the team are already active.  Maggie Hawley, for instance, goes hiking and to the gym, and uses Wii Fit to stay in shape.  Other team members run marathons, train for sprints and participate in other forms of dance. 

     “Sprint training is useful for our eight hand reel,” says Deedra. “It builds stamina for the longer dances.”

     Not only does Irish dance improve stamina, it can help tone unused core muscles and provide an aerobic workout.

     The eight women expected to gain a new skill and increase their activity, but what they didn’t count on were the added benefits of lasting friendships and a rip-roaring good time.

     “We've become really close over the last year, both personally and athletically,” says Kiramey Gilleese.  “We're currently trying to get a dance gig at a pirate-themed restaurant so we can raise money for the Oireachtas trip.”

     “In my family, I am the only girl with three brothers. Being on this team makes me feel like I'm dancing alongside seven sisters. I love it,” Hillary says.

     The next time you attend a Western Region feis, track down the Crawford School of Irish Dance’s adult team.  They are well aware of the hard work and challenges that come to adult Irish dancers, but the benefits and joy that they gain are evident in their dedication, their words, and, of course, their dancing.

     As Kiramey put it, “As long as you want to and you have a passion for (something), it's never too late try something you've always wanted to do.” 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Renewed Commitment

This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Feis America Magazine.

My husband and I drove to a feis late one night with a van full of small children. We made it to Boise, Idaho in time to tuck each child into their motel bed. The next morning, despite the early hour, we made it to the Boise by the River Feis on time.

As we searched for the registration table, I felt the familiar competition nerves begin to flutter. To add to my nervousness was the novelty of having my nine year-old son compete in his first feis.

 We settled the kids on the bleachers with a backpack full of distractions, and enjoyed watching our son compete.

With only two hours to go before my own competitions, we opted to stick around the feis arena, grabbing a strength-zapping hot dog for lunch. The two hours came and went, and we realized that the feis was running far behind schedule.

As the wait dragged on, I began to wonder if I should be at the competition at all. An uncomfortable feeling of doubt crept into my consciousness, resulting in an unsettling case of anxiety.

After warming up for too long, we adults began competing. Halfway through my single jig, I landed a leap wrong and twisted my calf muscle, taking me out of competition. I sat out the rest of the dances, tears swimming in my eyes, wondering what in the world made me think that I, an over thirty, mother of five, beginner, could compete in Irish dance?

My body is too old, I thought, do I honestly think I can dance with a body that has taken the abuse of time and motherhood? It was the first time I had honestly doubted that, if I had the will to aim high and the determination to work for it, I could accomplish any dream.

 I looked over to where my family lay sprawled across two rows of bleachers. The baby had succumbed to a nap in my husband’s tired arms and the four other small children were roaming the stairs amid scattered crayons and snacks.

What gives me the right to submit my family to this torture? I wondered. My mishap bred negativity and soon I was questioning the wisdom of pursuing Irish dance at a time in my life when I could be content to watch it from a distance.

I had worked so hard on my dances, traveled hours to attend the feis, and paid money to compete in the dances that were passing me by. I do not know which pain I felt more keenly; the injury to my leg, or the torture of sitting on the sidelines, watching my adult friends compete without me. Self-pity threatened to block out any positive that could come from this experience.

As my three year-old daughter “helped” me rub ice on my leg, I wondered if my husband would echo the feelings of doubt and trepidation that haunted me. After all, he had just spent ten hours wrangling kids, footed the bill for dances I did not complete in, and watched helplessly as I sustained an injury.

When I voiced my concerns, his response gave me hope.

“You can’t let this get you down,” he encouraged, “you’ve got another feis in a few weeks.”

How I needed that support. Self-pity vanished and I began to form a plan of attack. I can do this, I determined, pushing the uncertainty and fear behind me. I can follow my dreams of dance regardless of my age, or the number of children I have at home.

I limped over to the results table and did my best to help corral my small children while we waited for the placings to be posted. To my surprise, I placed in every dance that I had been able to compete in. A few of the ladies whom I had competed with came over to check on my leg. Although it still hurt to put pressure on my leg, my spirits were lifted and I looked around the arena with a renewed commitment to pursuing my love of Irish dance.

The injury to my leg was minor; I am already back on my feet again. The real victory came from my triumph over self doubt.

I’ve since come to the conclusion that if the pursuit of something brings you joy, embrace and pursue it with all of your heart. You will spark a change in yourself, and ignite transformation in the lives of those who are touched by your light.

Monday, February 8, 2010

LDSStorymakers Conference and Contest

Disclaimer:  You could say that this post is not really about Irish dancing.  And yet it is, in a way.

I just signed up to attend the annual LDSStorymakers Conference that is held each year in April.  Why would an Irish dancer do such a thing, you might ask?  Well, there are a couple of reasons:

  • I began freelance writing about my experiences as an adult dancer about this time last year and I'd like to hone my skills on that front. 

  • Also, I am about a third of the way through a young adult novel that is about, you guessed it,  an Irish dancer. 

 They are holding an awesome contest that involves blogging about the conference and the contest itself.  So, if any of you are near Utah in April, and want to attend, I'll see you there!


Sunday, January 31, 2010

Doing the Happy Dance

I can remember what it used to feel like to dance.  When I was a teenager I floated across the floor, my body thin and weightless, my legs stretching in every direction with little effort.  I guess that is the problem I have as an adult dancer-my body doesn't respond to dance the way it used to.

How unfair it seems that I work just as hard now at the dance that I love, yet my body feels like a rock that refuses to move on the dance floor.   Years of pregnancies, inactivity and accumulated weight are obstacles that loom in the way of my dancing aspirations. 

So what's a mom to do?

Aside from the obvious (lose weight, continue practicing), I've found that a positive attitude will go a long way to helping me acheive my goals in dance.   When I give myself permission to be who I am at this moment, no matter what that self may look like, I find myself dancing better.  My step is lighter and my jumps lift off the ground a bit higher.  I can't help but grin at my reflection in the mirror.  I haven't given up my pursuit of a healthier, more flexible dancing body, but in the meantime I plan on enjoying every opportunity I have to dance.

 After all, a smile stomping around the stage is more fun to watch than unhappy perfection.