Irish Dancing- A world of its own

Fake tan, wigs and dresses that weigh more than you do- the building blocks of an Irish dancers success. Piling into unfamiliar secondary schools and piling on the makeup so it can be seen from the other end of the motorway. All integral Sunday rituals.

Light dances exhibit a dancers grace and poise with delicate points and sharp kicks. Heavy dances show fight with loud stamps and high clicks demanding the adjudicators attention. Both taking countless hours to polish and perfect.   

So why do people do it?

Michael Shieldon from the Mills School of Irish Dance in Bromley, said: ‘I dance because I love to learn new steps and skills. Being able to show my family new techniques from class is one of my favourite things and winning at a feis is such an amazing feeling!’ 

While not all of us can reach the dizzy height of Lord of the Dance or Riverdance, competing and moving up the ranks is one reason to put on your heavy shoes. Competing every weekend is commonplace. Every serious dancer goes in armed to the teeth with chocolate and energy drinks for an inevitable three hour delay, enough suitcases to sink an airplane and at least four different brands of hairspray. Seeing the same people again and again fighting for the same thing you are. That first place trophy. As you progress from novice to primary to intermediate to prelim the stakes get higher and the steps more difficult. But nothing can replace the floating elation of being called upto the podium to collect a huge trophy proclaiming regional success.

It has to be said heritage plays a huge part in Irish dancing, it allows you to regularly travel back to Ireland for competitions and do some of the same dances people in your family will have done for hundreds of years. I have heard from family of times long ago when Irish dancing was banned to encourage the eradication of Irish culture which, even hundreds of years on, still inspires people to keep dancing and keep the culture alive. There’s always a sense of immediate companionship when you meet someone from the same small Irish town as you (even if they are your closest competition).

Blisters and bruised toes are to be expected when you spend days walking on your toes. With both light and heavy shoes to master there is truly no rest for a dancer. But passion drives us. Wanting to win drives us. Love for dance drives us. So if you ever get the opportunity to watch an Irish dancer or even give it a try yourself please do! This is a tradition to be kept alive and that has dances to be shared.