Today, Wednesday February 7, is Girls and Women and Sports Day. Most of our audience is in full acknowledgement that Irish dance is a highly athletic, artistic sport. It might not be played on a field, but our dancers train, think, and live as athletes each and every day. My biggest pride, and perhaps my biggest responsibility, as the director of Scoil Rince Luimni is the influence and impact I have in our students. While Irish dance is an activity for boys and girls, the majority of our students - like other dance forms - are girls and women. Boys will always be welcomed by us and other dance studios alike, there’s a part of me that feels so joyful that dance studios are a place where girls and women are the majority, feel safe, and can be unapologetically themselves.
From our tiniest little dancers that are often taking dance for the first time, I want them to fall in love with dancing. Even when we get distracted and just want to twirl around the room, I can’t get too upset as at the heart of the matter - they are enjoying movement, expressing themselves, and finding their confidence. I want them to always make the proud, excited faces I see when I encourage them or congratulate them on doing a step or movement correctly for the first time. I want them to continue to tell me all the little things on their minds while we stretch because it shows me they feel safe and comfortable in the studio and with me as their teacher. These are the moments that make build these little girls into well adjusted women someday.
For our school aged crew that are finding Irish dance for the first time, they sometimes come in with reservations or fears. It might be a bad experience with a different activity that keeps them guarded or just carryover from other events in their life - a move, academic stress, and school bullying - that brings them into dance class as a shy, skeptical student. Week to week I see them start to flourish as they can’t help but let go and enjoy their class. The music, the movement, the other students - it lights up these students from the inside out. I see their love of dance grow alongside their love for life. The transformation that takes place over the first few months of classes is something that I will never grow tired of. These are the moments that build girls into happy, vivacious women someday.
For our developing dancers who are moving up the ranks and getting older and wiser every year, they are starting to struggle in one way or the other. Whether it’s getting harder to pick up choreography, a first injury, or a mental block that starts to creep in, each dancer will have a personal struggle to face. I want these dancers to know that we all face challenges in life and one day they will have a challenge much bigger than this. I want these ‘big girls’ and pre-teens to develop the grit and tenacity to face these challenges head on and work through them. It’s a much quieter celebration than seeing the little ones’ proud faces, but the subtle signs show me I’ve done my job. I start to see dancers who were once too afraid to take a risk start to step up. I start to hear them passing on words of wisdom to others that up until recently they needed to hear themselves. These are the moments that build big girls into mentally and physically strong women someday.
For our teenagers and young adults, you’re working your way through some of the toughest phases of life. Dance class becomes your escape - your stress relief, your outlet, and your social hub. No one wants to go back in time and be a teenage girl but everyday I get to help students through this phase of life. These dancers live the student athlete life even though their schools likely don’t give them the same treatment as the football or basketball teams. They wake at the crack of dawn, attend eight hours of classes, only to come home and complete another few hours of homework, and a couple hours of physically demanding dance classes. These young ladies are wise beyond their years when it comes to time management, assessing priorities, and doing whatever it takes to meet their goals. I want these young ladies to know that as a former teenage girl, I commend their daily commitment, effort, and desire to be part of our community. These are the moments that build young women into warrior women.
Irish dance is an amazing vehicle for girls and women of all ages who want to be active. The goal of sports isn’t solely to be “good” at that sport - it’s to develop skills and the character to face real life in the future. It brings me great joy to be part of the evolution of our girls whether they’re in the studio for half an hour each week or for many hours each day. I hope that my leadership, influence, and experience makes a positive impact on each of them.