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.”