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Irish Dancing: Relationships created on and off the stage

Rachel Martin and Sarah Taylor (Photo Credit: Sarah Holtz)

With most athletics there is a balance between the individual and the team. That old saying, "There's no 'I' in team," is one we all know well, but what happens when you need to stand out among the group and also collaboratively work with the group?

Enter, Irish Dancing.

Not only does this dance require individual vigor, strength, flexibility, and amazing shock absorbency, but it also builds relationships and bonds between dancers that last for a lifetime.

The Ryan School of Irish Dance--located in both Lafayette and New Orleans--has filled its classrooms with girls leaping, turning, and dancing since 2004, and they are taking it to the next level this year by throwing a two-day feis.

"The word feis is gaelic for festival," eighteen year-old Irish Dancer Rachel Martin explains. Yet, in the U.S., feis is used to describe a competition, and come May 27 and 28, the Hilton New Orleans Airport will be overtaken with elaborate costumes and ringlets galore in honor of this double feis.

Fifteen year-old Irish Dancer Sarah Taylor says, "Spray tans, wigs, and full on makeup and costumes," will be on stage along with the vibrant dancing that requires perfect poise, posture and balance. Although the weekend is a competition, it is also a time for massive bonding to occur between the girls on and off the stage.

The feis brings in dancers from all around the world, who join together in their love of Irish Dance. Yes, the dancers need to stand out as individuals, but while they are on stage, these girls are always conscious of the others around them. As Martin explains, "You don't know what direction they [the dancers] might be going, and you don't know if they're going to do a leap or a turn or if they're suddenly going to kick you in the face."

Maneuvering on stage while executing the choreography and also trying to be seen by the judges is one part of the feis, and the other part comes with performance. During a performance, "If I mess up, I have the confidence that people in the audience don't know that I messed up," Martin says, so the girls can let their hair down, figuratively and literally. "You can have minimal makeup and just have your hair up for performances," Taylor explains.

These dancers know the intense amounts of practice, prepping, and courage this dancing requires (did we mention that when they land from a leap or a jump that they have to always land on their toes?), so there is a strong level of support among the dancers.

 

"Especially at competitions, I'll always say good luck and make an effort to watch everyone," Taylor says. This collaboration and support also happens during the partner dances because "that's when you really need to realize you're dealing with another person here, and this is when we have to work as a team," Martin says.

Stories of girls helping each other align costumes and adjust wigs as well as tales that initiate incredible laughter about moves, mess-ups, and costume malfunctions are abundant in the Irish Dance world. The dancers can share memories about practices that left them exhausted as well as secrets about how to break in their shoes. It's a dance world that requires energy, love, and it's all coming to New Orleans on Memorial Day weekend.

 

 

The Ryan School of Irish Dance will be holding the double feis at the Hilton New Orleans Airport on May 27 and 28. To find out more about the school and the double feis, you can visit their website and check them out on Facebook

 

Kelley Crawford is a professor, writer, mentor, dancer, and constant questioner. If you would like to contact Kelley Crawford, you can email her at kelley@nolavie.com.