Updated on April 6, 2016
Starting Irish Dance (Again)
A story for people who have left and regret it. Sort of.
Once upon a 2001, I started my Irish dance diary. It’s still out there. Unedited. I’ll even give you the link. Here is the link.
I deeply appreciate thirteen-year-old me for doing this, and for making it a solid couple of years before the novelty wore off and I was going to lessons two or three times a week and mired in dance school drama and politics. As is usually the case when things go from recreational to competitive.
The diaries would probably have been more interesting during my later years, but most of those thoughts were best kept to myself.
I have not been in a lesson since 2006. Well, I had not been in a lesson since 2006: until yesterday.
I’ve wrestled with thoughts of going back to Irish dance since I stopped. I stopped because I went to college. I went to college in a city where I attended most of my competitions, and there are a host of amazing schools I would have loved to be a part of. But I never did it. Expenses, transportation, time were all important factors. I did non-Irish dance classes through my university. Adult ballet. Dance 101 and 102, that sort of thing. Then I did Lindy Hop, which I’d always wanted to try. I want to go back to that, but not as much as I wanted to go back to Irish dance.
Because I started going to the gym, doing Zumba, and starting circus arts (aerial silks), I thought I’d jump back in now. Almost literally. Why not, right? I’m not getting any younger and my joints aren’t, either.
So let’s see if I can diary this like I did in the old days.
My mom got my shoes out of storage and is shipping them to me, but they haven’t arrived so I danced in my old ghillie socks I got at a feis something like fourteen years ago. OH WHAT CHEEK.
I emailed a couple of local schools to ask about adult classes, but only one responded. It took me a long time to decide if I wanted to do a more recreational sort of class or if I wanted to go to a proper school. I may yet divert to a recreational setting at the Irish Arts Center or something, but it depends on how this experiment at a proper school goes.
Okay, so first thing’s first: the MTA had a hell of a lot of train drama, so the certified teacher who founded the school could not come. He sent an assistant teacher, who was also late because seriously, the trains were going mental today. (Okay, not mine. I took the F.) This meant that the class didn’t begin for quite a long time, and everything had to be sort of squashed together after warm-ups.
Warm-ups brought back some memories. Very similar room crossings to the ones I used to do, though for some reason I found myself brainfarting quite powerfully on moves that I do at home for fun when I feel like a little softshoe… I don’t know. Performance anxiety? Lack of shoes? Lemme just say that my double cuts are still primo. And my turnout is still shit. I AM PIGEON-FOOTED GOSH. Lord, please let us not have to do any heel click intensives when I get my shoes back. I’m not ready for that embarrassment.
During warm-ups there was this turn with a little toe hit that they are calling a double back. We never did anything like that in my old days~ And to me, a double back is a double somersault. I am not Simone Biles. I am also annoyed because they didn’t break that down for me, either. I am going to practice what I think I figured out, but it’s probably wrong.
DEEP BREATHS. IT’S JUST DAY ONE.
After warm-ups they ran through each dance. I watched. The choreography looked nice. This school’s style isn’t completely opposite of what I’m used to, thankfully. But I had to laugh ruefully about learning the light and single jigs when I had finally qualified out of them at my last feis and I was so happy. OHH, THE HUMANITY.
So the first hour ended and hardshoe commenced. Hardshoe in socks is always fun and beneficial. I did the treble drills and the teacher attempted to teach me the first step of their treble jig but please, dear god, understand that I need at least five minutes of pointed instruction to make even half of a step come to life. I mean, they were doing right and left feet to full speed music as soon as I supposedly learned it.
I am going to practice a treble jig this week, but it will probably not be what I was taught.
I’m signed up for an hour of softshoe followed by an hour of hardshoe. It’s an interesting format. It’s probably even a normal format. I’m not sure. My old school (oh my god I am Phoebe of Magic School Bus) combined both in each class, and each class was an hour, hour-and-a-half long (except figure classes, which were longer). Sometimes we might not even focus on one at all. I think having a dedicated class is a better idea, in terms of nailing technique. There was some good technique instruction.
It’s funny, though. I kind of vaguely remembered why hardshoe became my better side towards the end of my competitive career, despite the fact that I never got my clicks consistent, or my left-foot drumrolls very rolly. Oh, to have been born with any natural turn out.
So I am in an adult intermediate class. Everyone in it has clearly been dancing here for at least a year or more, or at least since last fall. Almost everyone knows a step of every dance, some people know more than one. Me, I KNOW NONE OF THEM YAY! And I still know none of them because I did not really get any dedicated time to learn them at a learnable speed.
I mean, the teacher was nice, the people were friendly and of mixed levels of execution, and the steps I watched I really, really liked and will be excited to learn. But I was hoping, and maybe this is largely because the head teacher wasn’t there, that I would be able to get a little more of a breakdown. The one dance I could execute (okay, like 90% of it) was St. Patrick’s Day. I even copied the way this school performed certain moves! Go me! I haven’t danced that thing since I was competing!
Ultimately, I’m really hoping that I will get some better time with the steps and the new lingo (it’s good I spent so much time reading dance diaries back in the early 00s or I wouldn’t know there were so many different terms for the same movements). Additionally, there are new elements and moves that weren’t really popular yet when I was dancing, so I didn’t learn them.
I don’t pick things up just by watching a run-through or by a single demonstration. My old school would break down every step until we had each section (mostly) worked out. Then we might do the opposite foot or we might save it for the following week. The problem, of course, is that I am the only new person and there is no time or place to take me out and give me individual attention. But, I mean, if I was encouraged to join, I hope they have a contingency plan… Or it’s going to be a messy couple of months.
The other thing, and this is very much a personal thing, is that I am not used to being the newbie Irish dancer in my class. Nope. I joined my old school when it was first branching out into my city, so there were literally all beginners. We became the advanced dancers. And I was one of the group who competed and were, well, the top of the class? I can say that. It was true. We were good, and the ones who kept dancing are now Open Champs and have been for a long time. I believe one is getting her or got her TCRG, too.
The wonderful and amazing founder of our school, Deirdre, told me during my very first session that I took to Irish dance like a duck to water. I’m sort of flailing around like a duck with a broken wing at the moment.
It’s just a strange mental space to be in, and I am trying to shrug it off so that I don’t develop some sort of weird anxiety.
I can say that I still have a lot of instincts and technique, but I am also reeeally rusty. Ten years will do that to a person. I dread wearing hardshoes next week. Lord knows what that will sound like.
Now I just have to figure out where the hell I’m going to practice in a small NY apartment.