Pride and Prejudice

April 6, 2010

After a very eventful March into April, I come back a little reluctant at what I’m about to write. Oddly enough, while this affects students more than you know, my remarks are directed at your teachers- at the overarching personality canopy and political structure that Competitive Irish Dance functions in. That, unfortunately, I must work within.

As I have attended meetings for the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a growing trend of teachers asking why their peers don’t obey local and general rulings. The subjects can vary from recent rulings in skirt length to classic “white lies” involving ratios on teams or dancers entered for competition in the wrong age category. Others express frustration on issues not covered by rules, including “feis boycotting” and other gestures of support for feiseanna and Oireachtasi. When a rule is passed that is clearly unenforceable, it’s open season for sneaky behaviour.

This extends to adjudicators. Some judges are sticklers for rules, and will mark you down if you went out-of-bounds during your figure dance, or your skirt is too short- you’ve all heard stories. Others seem to let things slide, much to some parents and teachers frustration. The scores of people who have observed unethical judging could be marked up to many cases of sour grapes. But why would such extreme opinions and experiences be so widespread?

If you stand and say “why can’t everyone just be ethical?”, you’re not alone.

Pride wields her mighty fist in this Irish Dancing world. Each teacher is fighting desperately for his or her school to be the best, to have the most advantages and make sure that anyone in their way is set down. The “my way or the highway” attitude is taken by mighty figures, as well as the political power to grind into the dust anyone who might have another opinion or need. Just like one dance move will work for one student and not another, one ruling may help one school while tying the hands of another.

Apathy also takes a leading role in this melodrama. “Because that’s just the way it’s done” is the rallying cry of those who don’t know the reasons why we do things, just that it’s “traditional”. (for a humorous story about why we do things, visit People with new-fangled ideas are laughed at or shunned. New blood (with it’s new ideas, technology or philosophy) in the organization is congealed by the tourniquet of the “old crowd”. It’s easier for these disenfranchised new teachers to just say “why should I bother trying to help? No one listens.” Then they become part of the apathetic herd.

Others are scared. I’d count myself in this group. We are so afraid to step a toe out of line, for fear the vitriol of the region will be directed our way. We are the silent ones, the “abstain from voting” crowd. Better to not make a splash then to be cannonballed. (Now you are recalling how my blog is anonymous… scaredy cat me.)

Then the only option left is to decide whether to obey the rules that others will not, or find your own way around them. Of the host of consequences resulting from this, perhaps the vicious cycle of teachers and learners is the worst. Dancers who emerge from the schools of dispassionate teachers have less respect for rulings and guidelines as well. It becomes a game, entitled “what can I get away with?” Those who win, get away with it with flying colors.

Reading the above is enough to work anyone into a rage. But as I started pondering this major flaw in my organization, I had to look to myself first. I had to ask:

“Have I always followed every rule exactly?”

“Do I speak of my colleagues with respect, even in my own mind?”

“Do I make excuses for my behaviour by saying ‘But they do this and this to get ahead- I’m only making things fair.’?”

“Do I always consider myself right, not considering the situation or experience of others?”

I found unsavory creatures inside my own head. Hubris, Hypocrisy, Hate. I’d love to pretend they aren’t there, but they’ve grown up alongside my humbling experiences, tests of integrity and genuine love for my students. No one is free of them completely. I’ve met many a wonderful person and teacher who will regretfully admit that behind their pleasant facade they are battling these monsters themselves.

These problems are not going to go away until we do two things:

1. Someone must come forward, risking political pull, respect and power to say that what we are doing is wrong, and that we need to do better.

2. There will always be a struggle until moral discipline is nurtured personally in each member of the organization, from the president of An Coimisiun to the newest teacher. Because no one wants to listen to a hypocrite call us back to dignity.

For this, a couple months late, I resolve to try to do what is right, not just what is legal. Maybe if I work from that higher law, I won’t worry about the trends in regional and organizational rules. Maybe Hate, Hypocrisy and Hubris can take a backseat, and freedom to be the best teacher I am capable of can come to the fore.

11 Responses to “Pride and Prejudice”

  1. WR Mom said

    Thank you for saying what needed to be said, and for being a beacon in the dark that Irish Dancing has become. I sincerely hope that more TCs and ADs out there take your message to heart and make their own decision to “take back” irish dancing from the corruption that has enveloped it, from the top all the way down.

  2. red said

    I have to agree with you in total on your wonderful article. Sadly, we’ve all seen political things happen especially to dancers at the higher levels. A young dancer I know just returned from Worlds and told stories of dancers stopping in their round and placing, dancers winning first who were outdanced by the 2nd placer etc…I know that this is subjective but how many of us have seen dancers with high placing scores and then one strange low placing? As to An Com I think the days of their power are waning. Just as with any corrupt body or organization they will collapse from their own greed and hubris. I don’t know when this will happen but I would imagine soon as the numbers of new dancers are slacking off. Riverdance and LOTD are “last Tuesday” with a lot of kids and ID just isn’t as popular as it once was. The days of the cash cow are coming to an end. I just hope that these folks are ready when Karma comes to call.

  3. retired dancer's mom said

    I wish that more TC’s and AD’s would rise to standard you are speaking about. My daughter danced for many, many years during which time my husband was transferred and we moved so she had to switch dance schools….but still within the same region. She had placed top three at every Oireachtas for over all these years and always recalled and placed high at Nationals…except the first Nationals after she switched schools. At that Nationals she did not recall. Her former teacher told her new teacher that she had “fixed it” so that she would not recall as punishment for leaving her school. One judge that gave her zero points had placed her third in an overseas competition the year before. This teacher even hosted a party in the hotel to celebrate my daughter not recalling and invited a musician friend of ours…..who declined the invitation. I wish there would have been some recourse.

  4. MS said

    Be brave and strong and stand up for what you believe is good and moral and right.

  5. RoseofTralee said

    Agreed. There are many TCs who are simply ‘selling’ their name and never actually meeting the students who sign up to compete under their school name.

  6. Jo Beth said

    We all have those characterists that are not admirable. The key is the choice we make not to act upon them. True, sometimes we fail or fall short, but if overall not acted upon, we can count that we have solid footing on good ground – as you do.

    You have taken the first step, recognizing the injustice/problem. You looked inward and then deicided that you would do your best. When ramifications for taking the morally “high” ground abound, it is difficult to make waves. Trust that your voice is not alone. Hopefully others will lend their voice to yours and the roar will be heard.

    If there comes a time when you feel that it must start with your voice, believe in what you say and most importantly that you are rising for the students that you teach and all other students of other students that are not at a place where they can voice there concerns.

    You sound like a great teacher.

  7. fed up mum said

    I always annoys me when people say we’re being paranoid and making things up when complaining about ‘corruption’. My family think I’m nuts for staying in ID and think it’s uncharacteristic of me to not take these people to task for treating my daughter so badly… it is! I would and have been a force to be reckoned with out in the ‘real’ world, they just don’t understand how difficult it would be for DD if I did it here.
    I have a friend who took her DD away from a school, one of the TCs told her that she’d never get, with the new school, what she had with them, the new school just didn’t have the same ‘pull’. She was right, the dancer dropped in all the majors and even ordinary feis. What did they do? Went back to the old school and her results miraculously improved. She was no less the dancer with new school, in fact that TC fixed a lot of probs she had, but couldn’t ‘fix’ the results. The friend went down in my estimation, obviously the results were more important than her principles.
    My own daughter’s been blighted since we made the mistake of moving to a ‘respected’ school in our region and then having the audacity to move on when we realised it just wasn’t the right school for her. I say ‘respected’ basically they have fingers in every pie and enough strings to keep a puppet factory in business. We’re at a school now where she’s happy. Me, I’ve to resigned myself to the fact that she may never get what she’s capable of, I look forward to meeting friends at feis and laugh at the absurdity of it all.

    • Irishdancemom said

      Thank you for saying this! We have recently returned from a feising ban after having made 2 moves similar to yours. I was surprised to see how poorly my daughter did in her 1st two feiseanna back and I came down pretty hard on her then I came to realize that something else may be going on. This is confirmation – and it’s a sad one. Is there any way to find out for certain if a former TCRG is fixing feis results and if there is can any legal action be taken?

  8. irishdanceisgreat said

    Is there a place where there is the official code of conduct for TCRGs?

    • Members of An Coimisiun recieve a small handbook where there are rules for behavior. They do not cover all the subjects I have touched on in my post, and unfortunately, most were put in place to solve individual spats, and are not widely honored.

  9. adarc said

    I love your blog, as a friend to Irish Dance teacher I can say that many a times I’ve heard her lamenting the loss of a dancer. Truly grieving. The parents have no idea I’m sure how hard she takes it, even after all these years. They also rarely have any idea how much she has invested in each and every child. I hope many parents read, and understand better the relationship is not just about numbers.

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