A New Day

March 10, 2012

You trickle in, softshoes in hand, and sit on the ground to loosen the laces and slide your feet in. I turn on some music and a couple of you can’t wait until after the warmup. You just have to dance. You start running the new section of your reel and asking me questions. Yes, yes, I danced in the aisles at the market too.

Another student arrives and several huddle together to hear each other’s news. I love that you’re friends, but I hide it under a stern admonishment that we need to get to work. Another girl bounds in to give me a hug. It makes me feel excited to start the day. We’re partners in a goal, and it’s thrilling for all of us to see the improvement.

Okay, time to focus. The drill music goes on and everyone begins to move together, slow at first, lazily stretching tight muscles and sore joints, then increasing in spring as the blood flows. I worked that muscle hard last week, and we both enjoy exchanging tales of how sore we are from that drill last time. Finally, your faces begin to shine and it’s time to dance.

Let’s get to work.


I know many of you took piano lessons at some point in your life.  You went to one lesson a week or month, right?  What did you do on the other days where you were not at a lesson.

I didn’t practice either… see how well I play the piano?  I had enough natural pitch and rhythm and sight-reading to maybe convince my teacher I had thought about practicing during the week.  I’m sure I wasn’t her star pupil.  And after all the battles over practicing, my mom let me quit.  To this day I kind of blame her for it.  I wish I could play well.  But she was not about to waste the money on lessons, gas to drive there, and music to purchase without my holding up the end of the bargain.

Why is it that Dancers think that they can improve by just going to class?

Practice makes perfect, right?  It is SOOOO frustrating when we work together on a piece of your reel, we finally make some technical progress, and I’m excited for your breakthrough.  Then next week, you dance your reel, and ta-da! It was just like it was at the beginning of class last time.  You didn’t even think about what we had worked on, much less actually practiced it.  So we start over.  You think class is boring, I think you don’t listen to me.

The Solution?

Say it with me… Prac-tice.  Good!  Again.  Practice.  And louder.  PRACTICE!

And I don’t mean kick off your shoes, run through your reel and one step of your Hornpipe during the commercial break of ‘So you think you can dance’.  I also don’t mean turn on Lord of the Dance and learn the routines.  I also don’t mean work on the Slip Jig of your buddy who is already in Champs and has new steps that you like.

Practice is having a big enough space to work, free from the TV, facebook or your cell phone.  Practice is having your dance shoes on.  Practice is a 10 minute warmup, drills like we do in class, isolated practice of sticky spots and what your teacher worked with you on last class, Feis Runthroughs, Endurance Reps (the dance twice without a break), Video Taping and reviewing, One Dance in Depth, and 10 minutes of cooldown and stretching.

Just think…

Beginner+ 20 minutes of practice 3 days a week for 3 months= Advanced Beginner in all your dances at your next feis.

Advanced Beginner+ 30 Minutes of practice 3 days a week for 3 months= Novice in your stronger set of dances, high placements in all the rest.

Novice+ 45 minutes of practice a day for 6 months= Open Prizewinner, Baby.

Prizewinner+ 1 hour of practice 3 days a week for a year= Preliminary (at least by my “teacher discretion” qualifying method)

Preliminary+ 1 Hour of practice 4 days a week for a year= Open Championship

Open Championship+ 1 Hours of Practice a day (even on class days) for 2 years= Worlds Recall

Yes, that’s beginner to Worlds Recaller in 5 years.

Sound extreme?  What does it take to become an  olympic gymast?

A Concert Violinist?  Awesome Article: Concert violinist

Or, a bit closer to home, a Ballerina?

If you want to be a champion, you have to work like a champion.

Dancer, dismissed.

Mom, listen up.

I have heard some of you whine about how you don’t know why so and so is moving up while your daughter, who “loves to dance” but “isn’t as aggressive” is not.  You ask me about rewards for good behaviour, making your kid practice charts, scare tactics, etc.

Did you pay for your Daughter’s Irish Dance class or not?   Do you buy her new shoes, a new wig, drive her to class every week, take her to feiseanna?  A new dress if she practices for 45 minutes a day should not be the reward.  Getting to Irish Dance should be the reward.

This is not Math Homework.  This is something your child wants to do.  If they are “well-rounded”, often meaning they have too many activities on their plate to really gain mastery in any one of them, then expecting to become a champion is not a reasonable expectation.  If your child really wants to do this, it will need to be one of two or maybe three  primary focuses in their life.

Talk to me (your child’s teacher) about it.  I am a fan of the hard-nosed parent in this respect.   If they don’t think it’s worth their while to practice what I’ve worked with them on last week, I don’t want to see them in class today… it’s a waste of my time and theirs, and a waste of your money.  I’ll understand their absence if they are getting some tough love.

You should only have to give the support on your end if she is willing to put in the time on hers.

When everyone does their part:  Teacher gives steps and feedback, Parent gives some funding and lots of support, Dancer gives focus and effective practice- the results are incredible.

A different perspective

September 30, 2009

I know this is going to sound callous, but this will be good for you.

You didn’t know how much it hurt her to be ostracized, just because she was good.  Because she worked hard, was focused instead of chatting along the back wall.  Perhaps you thought that being a Championship dancer was reward enough to cover all the ostracization.   So you went ahead and made her feel like no one liked her.

Perhaps you were jealous.  Perhaps you didn’t understand.

But you do now.

You want it now.  I love to see the fire start burning in you.  You’re getting better… you’re on the cusp of championship.  You’re working hard, starting to sweat during class, although you wouldn’t have wanted to before.  You ask for extra help, just like she does.  And you actually take my advice, just like she does. You want it bad enough to let go of that teenage pride, and it’s paying off.

And the jealousy is now being directed toward you.    You never knew how it felt to have friends you had for years suddenly not want to talk to you, or at least chat like before.  Maybe you didn’t notice because you spend your time in class working  hard.   I know now that those same friends, the ones who started with you, are not understanding why suddenly you’re getting attention from me.  I’d give it to them too if they would take it sincerely.

Maybe talk to “the chosen one” again.  Maybe she would love for you to ask her about one of the moves in your reel.  Maybe she’d love someone to just acknowlege she’s there.   It’s true: Teenagers love attention, but they want good friends more.  So cut her some slack, if only because you’d like your own.

What it means to me

September 24, 2009

Being in a rather limited-publicity sport, it’s easy for even family members to not understand what I do, when I do it or How.  But especially Why.

“Why can’t you come camping?”

“Why are you so stressed?”

“Why do you deal with all of that crap?”

“Why did you keep dancing after having kids?”

I don’t understand it myself sometimes.    When I think about the  drama queens, Stage Moms, a less-than-perfect organization, and no money,  of course I even question myself.

If I was out to be a perfect business owner, this dream would have been in the trash years ago.  Same for being a brilliant choreographer, a star performer,  Saavy marketer (you get the idea).  If I wanted to be universally popular, respected and admired?  Won’t hold out for that one.

But there’s this feeling inside of me that I was meant to do this.

I do this because of the kids.  Amazing young men and women that come in just filled to the brim with this life energy.  To see their eyes light up when they do that new move right for the first time.  To hear them talking with their “Wednesday Night Best Friends”.  To get little notes from the Moms of these kids letting me know that I’ve changed their son or daughter’s lives for the better.   To be inspired every time they dance with “Wow, I helped them get there”.    To get the same thrill to see my first feis dancer with a medal in her palm as seeing my first “from scratch” student standing on the Podium. Goals that are made, planned, teamworked and met.  That I can be a part of it.

It means that I have a purpose here on this earth, to bring everyone to know their creator by discovering what they can do with the body he has given them.  So that’s why I do it- that’s what it means to me.