A Gathering Place for Adults Who Love Irish Dance

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Interview with competitive adult Irish dancer Julia Bannister from Canada

Julia Bannister from the Stanford School of Irish dance
Photo: courtesy Julia Bannister

"The choice to dance is yours, and the pure joy of Irish dance will remain with you always."
     ~ Julia Bannister

A big welcome to Julia Bannister, age 48, from The Stanford School of Irish Dance in New Brunswick, Canada.

Feis America:  In a few sentences, tell us about your Irish dance journey--what inspired you to take up the sport? 

Julia Bannister:  Without a doubt, I can say it was something deep inside that just burst through me when Sharon (our TCRG) came to town and started the school. The first adult class was devastating for me. I was faced with a blinding migraine. I felt overwhelmed and handed back the shoes that I bought that morning, and walked out the door only to return some eight years later. It was just something deep inside of me. It was an 18 year old dancer, Meghan Callaghan (who now dances at Sue Fay Healy in Ottawa, Ontario), that brought me, once again, to dare try Irish dance. I thought she was just supporting my desire to experience ‘a bit’ of Irish dance. Little did I know that she had another goal, before moving to Ottawa, and that was for me to join the existing adult class. With more than 20 years age difference between us, we are now the best of friends, and she continues to challenge and inspire me.

Feis America:  What school do you attend?

Julia Bannister:  Stanford School of Irish Dance, the only An Coimisiun le Rince Gaelacha-registered Irish dance school in the Province of New Brunswick, Canada. I feel so blessed to have our TCRG Sharon Stanford Rutter and to be able to be a part of the non-adult stream. I am in the Novice class. After nearly three years of being in the adult class and participating in one adult competition and two serious injuries later, I took a risk to move to & Overs. Then my TCRG took a risk with me by opening up the regular stream class to me and the youth took another kind of risk by accepting me into what is predominantly a youth-oriented teaching and learning environment. I am also part of our senior performing troupe. 

While these sound like huge accomplishments, they are really just two steps toward being involved with the school the way I want to be--fully integrated. I am still adjusting, and its been a very humbling experience. I am now more riddled with self-doubt like when I first started Irish dance but there is a difference. I have had to learn a lot in a short period of time to integrate into this Novice class and Senior Performing Troupe. I can’t expect anyone to get where I’m coming from because my fellow dancers are youth from age 8 to 25 and my TCRG expects me, like every other dancer, to work through my barriers.   I think this is an authentic part of the journey and experience of being part of an Irish dance school.

Feis America:  What is your favorite part of Irish dancing?

Julia Bannister:  Individual practice. I love breaking things down and perfecting them. That could be a step, a technique, visualizing the best execution--you name it! It's intoxicating, and once I give myself permission to start practice, I never want to stop. It is gratifying when I witness something beautiful, powerful or brilliant in an Irish dancer. I ‘borrow’ that strength and try to replicate it with a secret desire to add that quality to my own dance. That makes every dancer I see a teacher for me!

Julia Bannister practicing in her backyard.
Feis America:  What type of music do you practice to?

Julia Bannister:  I use to practice only to music that was very familiar to me, for example Tony Nother’s "It's About Time". In the past couple of months, however, I have finally begun to break free from that safety net and I am starting to dance to any Irish dance music regardless of who’s playing.

Feis America:  Do you have other hobbies besides Irish dancing?

Julia Bannister:  Absolutely nothing as captivating as Irish Dance. I tried bodhran, but I always find myself putting it aside for Irish dance. I used to do long-distance running. Even when under tremendous pressures as a self-employed social worker, at home as a single parent, or when I’m sick or recovering from dance injuries, I dream about Irish dance day and night. I find myself building my whole life around this opportunity, regardless of natural limitations that come with starting Irish dance at age 44.

Feis America:  What are your current and long term goals when it comes to Irish dancing?

Julia Bannister:  I’ve never had anyone ask me that, straight-up. I have told bits and pieces with two close Irish dance friends but until I share the specific vision and goal with my TCRG, and work out a long-range plan toward meeting those goals with her support, I will keep them in my dreams.

Short term goals are to participate in 4-6 feieanna this spring, summer and fall. Not only do I want to place fully out of Novice, but I want to do it with a growth spurt by September 2012. Adults can have them too!

Feis America:  Do you have any advice for beginning adult Irish dancers?

Julia Bannister:  Well, whatever advice I give is more than likely the very advice I need myself so for what it's worth (which is a lot to me) here it goes:

1) Talk less about the challenges.
2) Watch more from a place of curiosity.
3) Feel the brilliance of the way your body can do the dance, but don’t force it. 

The choice to dance will remain yours and the pure joy of Irish dance will remain with you always! 

Feis America: Thank you, Julia, for sharing your story with us and inspiring other adult Irish dancers!


Readers: Are you an adult Irish dancer, competitive or not, with a story to share? Would you like to inspire others to feel your passion for Irish dancing and culture? Do you have a question about Irish dancing? Please comment in the box below for replies and contact information!

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