I’ve told the story of my very last Irish step dancing competition, but it’s never occurred to me how symbolic it would be for my dance career moving forward. I had already quit dance. A compulsory high-school bought of mono, social priorities, and the general stresses of being a teenager had gotten in the way of the daily classes and feis-ing that had defined my life for so long. So I stopped. But I had one more feis (dance competition) on the books, already paid for, so why not? This was the only feis I hadn’t practiced for in all my years of competing, and the only time I’d ever danced in front of a judge with no desire to place. It was over anyway. So I decided to just go out there and enjoy myself! I’d been to dance class twice in the last month, and what was the point of stressing about it?
My most vivid memory of that day was one particular competition event. The adjudicator had a particularly stern demeanor. I’d been watching the stage for the last 30 minutes and the scowled hadn’t left her face once. No matter though, I wasn’t there to win and I didn’t care what she thought. So when my turn to dance came up, I told myself to just have fun and dance.
Long story short, the judge lit up when I started dancing, gave me a huge grin, and gave me first place.
It’s just occurring to me now how fitting that was for my last competition. My farewell to the rigid and potentially less creative form of dancing to traditional music would be a kind of swan song and a nod towards my future career as a traditional dancer.
After that competition, I finished high-school and started college. During my freshman year at the University of Minnesota, I started shopping for a new psychotherapist. I grew up with a therapist mom in a “broken” household… broken, two people decided to end a marriage that doesn’t make them happy seems more like a fix than a break, no? Anyway, I’d been to therapy many times as a child to “work through” my parents’ divorce. One therapist didn’t know what to do with me since I wouldn’t talk to her, so we did some of those inkblot tests and then she taught me how to sew a big huge goofy skirt.
I digress with the skirt… back to my other digression… therapy. I was shopping for a good therapist because I wasn’t happy and wanted to find someone to help me work through it. After my third attempt at a first session with another therapist, I realized that most of what I was talking about was how I had quit dancing and was so incredibly sad about it. The joy, love, camaraderie, and community that dancing had brought to my life was just gone. I still had the music, but I missed that physicality and everything that came along with it. I didn’t think there was a solution, a college student can’t keep spending the time and money on competition… plus competing as an adult dancer becomes a different thing at a certain point.
So I went on with my life, happier after finally finding a good therapist, and kept playing music! During my first visit to Ireland in 2004, I was exposed to sean-nós dancing at a session. A friend gave me a dose of the Connemara step and a fun little thing she was working on with a turn-around on the emphasis, an exercise I still use in workshops today! I went home and tried desperately to find videos of sean-nos dancing on youtube, to very little avail. It was during that same trip that I was convinced to come back to Ireland the next year and spend my sophomore year in the Music Department at University College Cork doing their Diploma in Irish Music program. It was there that I happened upon Peggy McTeggart’s dancing classes down in the old church hall, now known as the Sean Ó’Riada Hall, up at the top of Sunday’s Well…
More on Peggy’s classes next week. Enjoy a few jigs that take a little bit of a step dancery flair over on the tutorials this week!