Tag Archives: Irish Dance

Reflections of a Wannabe Dance Teacher

Trinity_Academy_of_Irish_DanceAs long as I can remember, my life has pretty much revolved around dance. I was three when I first watched an Irish dancing performance, was hooked on Riverdance from the time I was four and my neighbor gave me a VCR. I’ve been taking class the past 12 years of my life, and competing for the last 8. But now I’m seventeen, and it’s time to look into the future: college, a career. How can dance fit into the picture? It’s not easy with all the uncertainty.

The answer came (at least sort of) when I turned up to class too early one day in mid-November, and I watched a beginner doing a move wrong. Normally, I would have let it slide—my teacher would fix it later, when the class wasn’t so large—but, honestly, seeing this step done wrong killed me. So I walked over, and I taught the dancer how to do it properly. My teacher saw, and invited me to come assistant teach the following class. And so I did. Turns out, I love it.

One of the most emotional days of teaching was when I taught a beginner jig to a young dancer. This particular dancer, while talented, would have most likely been better off in our first beginner class, but she had moved into the second level because her friends had been moved up and the class was getting quite large. That Saturday morning, the dancer and I spent a good 45 minutes working on the newly-taught steps. I wrote this “note to myself” after this class:

The life I changed today was not really my own. It was my student’s. [My teacher] said that she’d never seen [the student] so involved, so focused. Today, I reminded a little girl that she can dance. Today, I was the teacher I would have wanted. I did work that I can be proud of, and work that I’m good at. Today was pretty great!!!!!

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A Rant about Dance Books

PointeIn the interest of full disclosure, I meant to write about Pointe, the first novel of Brandy Colbert.

However, I quickly realized that everything I was writing became a dance book rant, so I gave up and decided to (officially) write about the challenges of finding a good dance book for someone over the age of 10.

See, generally they fall into one of the several categories below:

1) The Children’s Book.  There is nothing wrong with this form, per se, but there are two ways this book can go: the instruction manual (which is always oversimplified and often inaccurate); and the dance story in which everything is hunky-dory. The characters are always full of promise, dance all the time, and never get injured (I’m looking at you, Ballet Shoes). I understand that no one wants to scare children, or kill their dreams, but this just isn’t reality.

2) The Book Where the Author Has No Clue What They Are Writing About.  We’ve all heard the saying “write what you know.”  Unfortunately, many authors completely forget about this when it comes to writing dance novels. I recently read Withering Tights by Louise Rennison, which I started because the main character was an Irish dancer.  However, I soon realized that Rennison had not done her research: she called one of the moves “twisty ankle things.”  Not only would no self-respecting Irish dancer describe a move like that, but it is not descriptive.  There are so many moves Rennison could mean:

As you can tell, all these moves are very different and all could be described as “twisty ankle things.”

3) The Author Has Actually Done Research And Still Doesn’t Get It.  Even if the author has learned about dance, and really has done their best, it doesn’t mean they can describe dance.  I do understand this: I’ve been dancing for years, and I often cannot describe the sensation of dancing—partly because it may change on a day-to-day basis, but mostly because I can’t really explain to non-dancers how it feels.  Even so, why would one try to write about something they can’t describe?

However, there are a few beacons of hope for people looking for good dance books.  The first is On Pointe, by Lorie Ann Grover.  This is the story of a young dancer forced into early retirement when she grows too tall to dance, and is written in verse.  The second is I Was A Dancer by Jacques D’Amboise, a lovely (if not always perfectly written) memoir.  Finally, try Bunheads by Sophie Flack.  Each of these explains what if feels like to dance, and I’ve re-read these several times.  Happy dancing!

–Emma, Greenwood Teen Adviser

GWD