Once, I was an Irish dancer…

Once, I was an Irish dancer…

There are two things I learned today:

  1. That voice you get in the back of your head that makes sarky comments whenever you’re doing something stupid or ill-advised? Mine sounds like Crowley from Supernatural, and it’s actually fairly worrying. My subconscious is the king of hell. Who’d have thought it?
  2. My cycling muscles are in nothing like the condition they were in three years ago.

As fascinating as item (1) is, item (2) provides a great deal more opportunity for philosophising on my past, so that’s going to form the rest of this post. Sorry boys.

(Was that Crowley? That sounded like Crowley to me. I heard it in his voice. Then again, I seem to be hearing a lot of things in his voice. They’re really going to lock me up for this one, aren’t they? Those of you who don’t watch Supernatural must be so confused right now, and I do apologise.)

So, my cycling muscles in 2010 were pretty hardy. Most of you haven’t been following my blog long enough to know this, but I used to be an Irish dancer. Don’t worry, I’m cured now. I started in September 2009 and quit in April 2011. Throughout most of 2010, I was cycling a hilly, twenty minute route, taking an intensive dance class that lasted an hour and three quarters, and then cycling the same thing back again. Three times a week. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Oh, and this was generally at night, perhaps half nine or quarter to ten, so I was also cycling in the dark. It was pretty hardcore.

Today, I cycled fifteen minutes to a friend’s house, collapsed, watched four episodes of Supernatural, cycled ten minutes from her house to school, collapsed, lasted an hour and a half’s band rehearsal, and cycled twenty five minutes home. Three years ago, that would have taken me fifteen minutes. Three years ago, I wouldn’t have been so exhausted when I got home that I simply collapsed onto the sofa with a cold drink.

I mean, I know I used to collapse when I got home from Irish dance classes, but hey, that was a lot more intensive than what I did today. (I also wrote 7.6k this morning, but let’s be honest with ourselves: writing may be a mental strain, but physically, it’s not even a walk in the park. It’s like a walk to the kettle to make the tea that fuels it.)

It’s not that I regret having quit Irish dance. I don’t. Okay, so sometimes I miss it, like when I watch videos from the World Championships and think about how I dreamed of one day getting there, but then I look at it logically and I know that that was never going to happen. I started when I was thirteen—the other kids were there at five or six and kept going the whole way through school. I had knee trouble, so my muscles overcompensated, so I got shin splints—it resulted in physiotherapy and a month away from classes. And my parents didn’t want me to compete.

They gave in, though. I nagged at them. Irish dance is, first and foremost, a competitive dance form. It’s a sport more than an art, in many ways. And there are the crazy dresses and the even crazier wigs and the sock glue (which I will defend to the death because that stuff is freakin’ amazing), and they didn’t want anything to do with that. I couldn’t blame them: I wasn’t keen on neon skirts, Swarovski crystals or curled wigs either.

102_1936But, after a lot of persuasion, my mum agreed to sew me a dress. A tasteful one. I designed it and she sewed it and that was my Christmas present. Christmas 2010, right? You’re beginning to see where this is going.

I did a competition in February 2011 wearing that dress. No wig: my hair was pulled in a bun on top of my head and we’d made a scrunchie out of leftover fabric. No make-up either: sensitive skin means that’s never been a thing for me. I won two trophies and a couple of medals, and it was great. It was going to be the start of something brilliant—I was going to work my way up to Championships, and then who’d be able to stop me?

Except that you know the end of this story, and you know that I quit less than two months later, having worn the dress once.

So why did I quit? Many reasons, my knees being just one of them. The truth was, I had to decide between ballet and Irish dance. Doing both wasn’t working. I’d only taken up ballet two months prior to that—the end of February, in fact—but I already knew that I was more comfortable in my ballet school than at my Irish dance school, where I felt somewhat excluded and outside of the social groups that existed there, partly because of my age and partly because I joined after everyone became friends.

I also figured I could do more with ballet.

Ballet 1But ballet was 45 minutes a week, going up to an hour and a half from September of that year when I took up pointe work, and cycling there wasn’t necessary. Truth be told, I only started cycling to Irish dance classes when they closed a road in my town and the traffic was too bad for the buses to get there on time. So I stopped cycling. My exercise decreased greatly. What I did do was muscle-based and tiring, but it wasn’t the high-intensity, high-impact sport that Irish dance was.

2010 was pretty much the fittest I’ve ever been in my life. I don’t want to go back there: who would voluntarily choose to be 14 again? It’s not a good time in anybody’s life, and I’m glad I’ve got past it. 14-year-old me was very young. She was naive and easily hurt, as evidenced by the poetry I wrote. She believed in everything, including her own abilities … which didn’t always live up to what she thought they were. She’d never stopped to question—she hadn’t even started figuring herself out, let alone had a crisis and come out the other side completely different (which is not much fun, but I’m glad it happened). She was ignorant and judgemental and only just figuring out the whole writing thing. On the whole, current me is a whole lot more fun.

But I do kind of miss being able just to cycle places without wondering how many times I’ll stop for breath, knowing that I won’t be able to get up the hill until I get some oxygen in me. And I kind of miss a dance form that allowed me to take out all of my anger on the floor, where the aim was to stamp as hard as you possibly could and not to flutter lightly across it like a butterfly. Because, you know, sometimes you need the whole pagan Irish warrior thing that’s going on with synchronised Irish dance drills, rather than the flock of swans you get with barre work at ballet.

I guess I’ll have to start cycling some more.

(As before, captions for the photos are found by hovering over them, as I’ve yet to figure out how to use captions when writing with Windows Live Writer.)

27 thoughts on “Once, I was an Irish dancer…

  1. Don’t forget also that 14 year old you had to ask a great deal of is lively friends for advice about quitting ballet and such :-) Where would you be without us lovely people eh?

  2. I enjoyed your story, and I have a few comments:

    1) Maybe it’s just the actor Mark Sheppard’s voice in your head. That is much less ominous.

    2) You could always take up kick boxing or try one of those kick boxing workouts. I feel like that would let you vent some frustration.

    3) I’m very glad you included pictures. No story is complete without pictures.

    4) I think your knees will be very glad you gave up Irish dancing when you get old. My dad has all sorts of aches and pains from all the sports he played when he was a kid. He was an amazing athlete and he’s a creaky old(ish) man.

    1. 1) Maybe, though it uses a lot of Crowley’s turns of phrase. It calls me darling a lot.
      2) I really want to take up armoured combat. Which would have a similar effect, except it would help me in my goal of becoming a knight.
      3) YAY PICTURES
      4) Yes, I think my knees will be glad too. They’re not that keen on ballet either.

        1. Yes… unfortunately one has to be eighteen to start, so I’m just waiting until then. And hoping I won’t break myself or take up any other hobbies that’d make it impossible. We’ll see…

  3. You once were an Irish dancer? But then yoiu changed nationality and became a British dancer, right?

          1. Can’t imagine what you mean. I thought I did a perfect impression of Xuan’s handwriting. Next time I’ll say it in Mandarin. 你曾經是愛爾蘭舞者?但隨後yoiu改變了國籍,成為英國的舞者,對不對?

  4. They have EXAMS? For DANCING? :O Don’t get me wrong; I think dancing is definitely a sport, but… I don’t know, I wasn’t aware that sports had exams. (If they did, I would certainly fail the test for softball. I play for the fun of it, not because I’m that great at it.)

    1. Ballet is an art form, Irish dancing is a sport (in the forms I’ve done them). I can do an entire post explaining why, if you’d like, but I’m not sure anybody would find it all that interesting.
      Ballet is therefore like music, so it has exams. Just as there eight grades on, say, the violin, following the ABRSM syllabus, so are there eight grades for ballet following the RAD syllabus. (And then four vocational grades that run independently or in parallel, but that’s getting into technicalities.)
      Sports, generally, don’t have exams … they have competitions. Like Irish dancing. Beginning to see how they’re different now? :)

      1. Oh. I would’ve considered ballet a sport (I mean, walking on the tips of your toes? Spinning around and around on one leg? What’s that even called? I have no idea.).

        I’ve never done exams for music. I’m not sure if that’s a difference between our countries or if it’s just something I never got involved with. But I wasn’t aware they existed around here.

        1. Hmm, strange. No, I would argue that ballet is an art form (largely because it is performed for the enjoyment of the audience rather than the satisfaction of the dancer themselves; they are dancing to create rather than to achieve).

  5. I know my Irish dance school is lax, but still – I’ve never heard of either the wigs or the sock glue. We just curl our hair for performances, and pull our bubble socks as high as we can. Perhaps it’s because we don’t dance competitively?

    1. Probably — it’s a competition thing. Sock glue just holds socks up and washes off with water (we call them poodle socks, but that’s a regional thing). For performances etc we weren’t even required to curl our hair, but for competitions it was … well, pretty full on. There are regional varieties in costuming, though, as well as differences between individual schools, and there are also the different competition ‘bodies’: schools belonging to An Comisiun have a different policy to those belonging to whatever the other thing was called … I’ve now forgotten. :)

  6. I’ve never been a dancer, but I’ve always admired the profession – and I remember feeling very sorry for you that you had to choose between Irish and ballet at the time. Sock glue, though, remains a somewhat ambigous mystery to me.

    1. Xuan at St. Mallory’s says – I’m a great fan of ambiguous mysteries. Confucius, he say “Unambiguous mysteries not very mysterious.”

    2. Sock glue isn’t only useful for dancers. Got those annoying straps that always fall down at inappropriate moments? Glue them to your shoulders! Does your dress have a habit of migrating away from your boobs? Likewise!

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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