A Gathering Place for Adults Who Love Irish Dance

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Adult Irish dancer spotlight on fun and friendship at Georgia's Drake School

Adult Irish dancers with instructor Mary Branick Ujda, TCRG (far right)
Photo: Faith Peppers

"For adult dancers, dance is not about seeing how high we can get in competition before we graduate. This is about dancing for life."  -Mary Branick Ujda, TCRG at Drake School of Irish Dance

Today we have both a dancer, and an instructor from the Drake School of Irish Dance in Norcross, Georgia. Faith Peppers has been dancing as an adult Irish dancer for over 20 years, the longest time out of her group. Mary Branick Ujda is the certified teacher that teaches this lively bunch of adults. We are lucky enough to hear from both of them.

Feis America LLC: Where do you live and what school does your group belong to?

Faith: Our group dances with the Drake School of Irish Dance in Norcross, GA. We have dancers from all around the north side of Metropolitan Atlanta.

Feis America LLC: How does your school support adult Irish dancers?

Mary: For adult dancers, dance is not about seeing how high we can get in competition before we graduate, it's about dancing for life. 

As the teacher, my goal is to engage everyone at the right level. In a class that ranges from graduate students to grandparents, the steps are not going to be one-size-fits-all. For dancers who want to work on the latest choreography, Karl Drake TCRG (founder of Drake School of Irish Dance) joins us for a workshop every year. For dancers who want to go easy on an injury, we modify. For dancers who want to dance the basics well, we choreograph new steps in a more traditional style.

Our class recognizes that, as much as we love Irish dance, it has to fit in with the demands of work, children, health issues, and other realities of our adult lives. Although there will always be times when dancers have to take some time off from class, they always come back, and they always have classmates ready to help them catch up!
Adult Irish dancers from Drake School of Irish dance
Faith Pepper is seen here on the right
Photo: Faith Peppers

Faith: We have a terrific teacher, Mary Branick Ujda, who was a member of our adult class before she earned her TCRG. We are all very supportive of one another. In the time we've been dancing together, we've had 10 babies born to members of our class.

We started with just four or five adults who came to dance and have a bit of fun. We then recruited some of the school students' moms to join our group. At feisanna we were usually the only adults competing, but, over time the class has grown and evolved, and so has the number of competitors.

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Feis America LLC: Does your group perform and compete? What are some of your experiences?

Faith: Once a team member showed up to dance in a feis and forgot her tights or bloomers. We grabbed some from a vendor and made a circle around her while she slipped them on.

Another time, we got on stage to dance a 4-hand and noticed one of our group had forgotten to change out of her hardshoes. It made for an interesting dance; her trying to keep her shoes quiet, the rest of us trying to keep a straight face. 

I think the best comments ever from an adjudicator were: "Lovely 4-hand. Nice footwork. Great timing. But, you sounded like a couple in a drive-in movie. Get in shape ladies!" So, we've set about doing that by doing more of what we love, dancing.

My first Oireachtas was in Orlando in 1996. I was six weeks pregnant and green as green the morning I had to dance. I was the only competitor in my Novice category that day. Before I began my dance, Karl Drake stepped in from behind me and said to the crowd, "Be kind, now. She's dancing for two."
Drake School of Irish Dance adult Irish dancers, Peach State Feis 2011
Photo: Kathleen O'Reilly-Wild
MARY:  One year, at the Peach State Feis, when our adults were the only 8-hand in their competition, all the other stages in the room paused for their dance. Adults are not usually the center of attention at a feis, but the whole room gave them a huge round of applause afterwards and one of the Drake - Mexico City dancers clapped one of the dancers on the back with a big "Excelente!"

Feis America LLC: What plans do you have for your adult Irish dancing group in the future?

Mary: We look forward to attracting more adult dancers in the Atlanta area who enjoy the challenge of Irish dance, and the mighty craic that goes along with it! We hope to branch out to other performance opportunities while continuing to support the local feiseanna. And we definitely plan to throw more parties with all of our families where we can roll up the rugs and dance a ceili or two!

Irish Central: What advice do you have for schools who are just beginning to teach a few adults?

Faith: Don't make it stressful. Adults are there for fun and stress relief. If it's too structured, it's not fun. Mix it up with steps and figures. Have social time outside of dance to build friendship and camaraderie so the competition doesn't divide the group.

Mary: Challenge them as dancers, respect them as adults, get to know them as friends.

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