Name: Siobhan J.
Dancer at SRL: Natalie J.
How long has your family been with SRL?
I think it’s 4 years, starting 5th year. Natalie’s sister danced for one year as well.
Why Irish dance?
A few reasons; we had started with “regular” dancing, but it lacked something. I’m Irish, I’m involved in the Irish community, and I thought this might be another way to engage my daughters in an activity that would be great for them and also tied to their ancestry.
How did you pick your dancer’s name?
Before my husband and I were even married, we knew if we had a girl she would be “Natalie” . He loved Natalie Portman, I had a favorite student named Natalie.
How do you think dance has positively affected your dancer?
Natalie is competitive and she wants to do well but she is a little girl who can be easily more interested in other things. Dancing with SRL and Miss Courtney has given her ways to practice at setting goals and working toward them. This was never more true than her second year when she was struggling with reading in first grade and simultaneously did poorly at a feis. Right after that, she set two goals - which she even wrote down - to get better at reading and to get better at Irish dance. By the end of that year, she had improved dramatically at both. I believe that Natalie’s competitive nature to do well or be the best she can be, combined with the skills that she has been taught by Courtney in dance, and the positive reinforcements she’s gotten from her achievements are inextricably linked, but in short, dance has been the vehicle to hone those skills.
If your dancer was an animal, which one would they be and why?
She might say a kitten; cuddly, cute, fun to play with. But seeing she can be a little powerhouse, I suspect that kitten will grow up to be a lioness.
Would you relive your high school years if you could?
Ironically NO. Ironic, because I teach high school, but my goal is to be the teacher I felt I never had.
What’s your favorite dance-related memory?
In the beginning, it was seeing Natalie (and her sister) go to the performances during the St. Patrick’s Day season, particularly the senior homes. The first time I was overwhelmed with joy was the performance at CCSU when she and Roisin came out from the side “stage” and joined the large group for the big performance.
Favorite fall family activity?
Normally we love going to fairs like the Big E or the Berlin Fair. Apple picking is another favorite.
If you had to work, but didn’t need the money, what would you do?
Something creative; making crafts, painting, taking art classes as a professional student. :)
What advice would you give parents who are looking to try out Irish dance?
Go for it!!! Some of the reasons I love it are because it is a YEAR ROUND outlet for my daughter (and her dance mates). She does not have to wait a whole year for one recital. She has competitions in the fall, performances throughout the winter and early spring, more competitions in the spring and summer, camp and other regular opportunities to dance, hone skills, perform, and become close with her friends. She has become good friends with several of the dancers, has role models in the older dancers; and the families get to know one another and become friends too. There is a great deal of support among the parents for each other and for the dancers. Furthermore, the dancers support one another! They stay at competitions and cheer for each other, they help each other with tricky moves, and they commit to their teams. Irish dance is as much community (however much one wants to commit) as it is individual. Of course, there’s the movement, the exercise and athleticism, the focus that some children need to burn off the extra energy while learning self discipline in a fun way.
On a uncommon comparison, I often think it has similar qualities to karate with the discipline, athleticism, and focus. But, Irish dance has joy and musicality that takes it to another level; this is why I think it’s also very good for boys even though it may not be the first thing one thinks.
This post is a part of a series. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Anyone who’s ever been to a country foreign to them knows: no matter how interesting the history and artwork and traditions are, there’s something equally intriguing about the differing details of day to day modern life. And nowhere are those differences more apparent than in snack foods. Though Japan is often cited for its incredible convenience store food, here are a few of Ireland’s favorite snacks that are just as intriguing…and sometimes surprising.
Red lemonade is almost exactly what it sounds like: it is lemon-flavored and it is red. However, this nostalgic beverage isn’t freshly squeezed, but more of an oddly colored (there’s also white and brown lemonade—which is also made and sold in Maine) soft drink (though they call them “minerals.”) Rumors still run rampant that this drink is banned everywhere but Ireland (and there’s also some mystery as to its origin,) but manufacturers insist this isn’t true. Though considered a bit of a throwback, red lemonade can still be found in many stores and pubs and is ordered by both children and adults to go with…more adult beverages.
Okay, okay, America loves potato chips too. But seeing different brands (like Tayto, Skips, and Hunky Dory) and flavors (Smokey Bacon or Prawn Cocktail, anyone?) can feel like a revelation. And the Irish are pretty serious about their crisps, too. When two Irish DJs decided to poll their listeners about the most popular crisp flavor in Ireland, the response was overwhelming, with 53% preferring Tayto’s Cheese and Onion. (In fact, Tayto brand crisps so popular in Ireland that a common snack is just Taytos smashed between two slices of buttered white bread—they call it a “Tayto Sandwich.”)
Originally called a “Tangle Twister,” these “ice lollies” are as common to Ireland as red, white, and blue Firecrackers are to the U.S. Though, they do come with a delicious twist on flavors: the original Twister is a creamy pineapple ice cream and lime fruit ice swirled around a strawberry fruit ice center. These days, there’s also variations involving blackcurrant (a very common dessert flavor there,) chocolate, pear, and even mango. In any flavor, these treats are so popular that there’s even a rollercoaster at West Midland Safari Park amusement park that echoes the classic design!
Name: Natalie J.
How long have you been dancing with SRL?
Since Kindergarten, going on my fifth year.
If you could only bring one thing to a desert island, what would it be and why?
My house, because it has a lot of stuff in it.
How did you get started with Irish dance?
I started at the church basement; Roisin Walsh was already dancing there.
If you were a fictional character, who would you be and why?
Hermione Granger (from Harry Potter.)
What’s your favorite dance memory?
Harry Potter Summer Camp!
What’s your favorite snack?
Fruit roll ups.
What’s your favorite thing about dancing?
Being with friends.
What’s your favorite show to binge watch?
iamSanna on YouTube (she has Roblox videos.)
Who do you look up to?
Miss Courtney Jay.
What’s the best advice you can give a new dancer?
Even though it is hard, you can do it!
This post is part of a series. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
The Druids and the Normans
There are many things in this vast world we don’t know the truth of: the Easter Island moai, the Nazca Lines, and even eels (hard to believe, but it’s true!) With legends reporting the earliest feis to have taken place three millennia ago, the beginnings of Irish dance fall into a similar category: a cultural marvel whose origin has been lost to time. (Okay, maybe eels are in a different category.)
While there’s no definitive answer for who the original practitioner of Irish dance really was, historians do have some educated guesses. The Druids—a learned class in early Celtic culture that was a mix of priest, teacher, doctor, judge, and even warrior—are most often credited with the earliest version of the dances we practice today. The Druidic class was highly respected in ancient Irish culture, with the word “druid” thought to have come from the Irish-Gaelic word “doire,” meaning oak tree or wisdom.
The biggest difference between modern Irish dance and Druidic performances? The Druids are believed to have danced as a form of worship. It’s thought that as early as 1600 B.C. the Druids were performing circular dances (possibly among standing stones, the most famous of which you may have heard of…Stonehenge) for a variety of reasons: to worship the sun and their namesake oak trees, as preparation for war, as a prayer for prosperity, as a courtship ritual, and even something closer to modern feis—social gathering and recreation.
But the Celts had some company knocking at the door. Ireland was invaded by the Normans in 1169 A.D., a group of Viking descendants previously settled in what is now Northern France. With their forces, the Normans brought a variety of traditions with them, including “carolling”—which is essentially a mix of Druidic circle dances (which were already similar to early French tradition,) and the singing we associate with modern caroling around the holidays.
“Carolling” led to one of the earliest known mentions of Irish dance in writing in 1413, when the Mayor of Waterford visited the Mayor of Baltimore (we've borrowed many a town name from the Irish!) and was presented with a procession of singing and dancing. While modern Irish dance is a little too athletic to expect anyone to sing while dancing, the custom of combining traditional dance and music is still carried out at most Irish dance academies. That includes us here at SRL!
This is part I of a series. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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