Deciding to return to Irish dance was a risky proposition, for me. I had no idea how my body would react — whether it would make my chronic pain better or worse, cause injury or allow me to get stronger. But it was also risky on more than a physical level.
When I started considering going back to Irish dance, I found myself suddenly full of wildly ambitious plans and dreams, such as I haven’t had for years. My health problems mean I’ve somewhat forgotten what it’s like to aspire; I’m constantly playing it safe and trying not to plan too far ahead. I knew, however, that if I put my whole heart into this dance thing and then my body failed me, it would be difficult to cope with, because it would be too much of a reminder of my limitations.
I also wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it emotionally. Would it make me anxious? If I decided to compete, would that be a massive strain? Would it trigger bad gender feelings or make me hate my body, the way ballet classes often do?
In other words: it was a gamble on multiple levels. But it seems to have paid off, so far.
As well as last week’s successful feis, I entered an online competition where you send in videos. I entered a couple of dances in December and was planning to submit a few more in the February competition, but only managed to film a slip jig before getting the flu. For these competitions, due to organisation rules, I compete not for my school but for the university Irish dance society, so the choreography I use is the stuff I’ve come up with for CUIDS.
Since there have been very few competitors in my age group for the last couple of rounds, however, for me these online competitions aren’t about, well, competing. They’re about the written feedback you receive from the adjudicator.
This time, it was extremely detailed, with some helpful remarks about what I could improve, and a couple that reiterated things I’d noticed myself (i.e. that my right hand twitches in weird ways while I’m concentrating, and that I can’t keep my head still). But it opened with the single best thing anyone has said to me about my dancing:
Wow. You are going to be spectacular.
It’s the best thing because it’s so positive, but also because of the use of the future tense. Going to be. Implying that I have a way still to go, that I’m not spectacular yet, but that they can see my potential, and if I keep on with Irish dance, I could be great.
It’s important to me because without that future tense, I wouldn’t have believed them. Because I know I’m not spectacular yet. I watch videos of champion dancers constantly, and I can see the difference between them and me. But I also know that I’ve been taking classes for, what, nine months now — with large gaps in between where I’m at uni and the only classes I have are the ones I teach.
And sometimes I’ve wondered whether I’m actually good at it, and whether I have any sort of future in dance. (In competition, in study, in teaching…)
But last Sunday I came home from that feis with four trophies and a medal and then I opened that email with the feedback and I saw the words you are going to be spectacular and I thought, “You know what? Maybe I can do this.”
And even aside from being good at it, I’ve found that I enjoy performing with Irish dance in a way that I no longer do with ballet. On stage in Swan Lake, I had that sick adrenalin feeling that comes with nerves. I felt self-conscious and paranoid about making mistakes. But while I was nervous before my feis last week, I got on stage and it was like, “Oh, I get to do this and have people watch it? Awesome!”
And last night CUIDS had its first ever performance, because it was St Patrick’s Day, and I found I was having a great time. I was doing something I enjoyed and people were watching. They were entertained by it. I found I danced better just because I was having fun, and I flourished in that performance setting.
Maybe the difference in how I felt doing ballet on stage and doing Irish dance isn’t about the dance styles: it’s about costumes, it’s about how well I knew the steps, it’s about being the centre of attention versus just one of many. I don’t know.
But what I do know is that I get a high from Irish dance that I don’t get from much else, and that, more than anything else, is what makes me believe the adjudicator’s feedback.
You are going to be spectacular.
Hell yeah, I am.