Never too old to dance

At age 27, I rediscovered Irish dance, thanks to the introduction of Riverdance. I sat there watching PBS one evening watching these lovely dancers, all over 18 and not just little tiny things. And I thought to myself, “I can do that.”

I set about to find an Irish Dance school teaching adults. I stumbled across Colorado Free University and St. Brendan’s School of Irish Dance. When I started dancing I felt like I was learning to walk again, and then, one day, it clicked. The muscle memory came back and I was able to pick up the steps.

Two months later, I danced in my first ever Irish dance competition and placed 2nd and 3rd in each soft shoe event in which I competed. I not only liked this form of expression, but it also seemed to like me as well. I was hooked.

I quickly moved up to prizewinner in my soft shoe events, with the exception of reel, that took me more than four years to accomplish, and hard shoe was so much fun to learn.

As I moved further into the world of Irish dance I started to discover that the leadership of Irish dance really didn’t care for adults interloping. Many of the older adjudicators were known to make comments such as “adults should have “gotten it out of their system” when they were younger.” Or, “adults just don’t understand the rhythm.” They passed rules specifically to thwart adults in competition.

All age group dancers have beginner through prizewinner and then preliminary champion and championship levels. Adults are restricted to beginner through prizewinner. Then the leadership went so far as to restrict the hard shoe competitions to only traditional speeds. The adjudicators didn’t want to have to “cringe” through adults attempting to dance the more complex non-traditional jig, hornpipe, and set dances.

As a result, I, like many other adult competitive dancers, dropped out of the adult ranks and began competing in the age groups. In my late 20’s and early 30’s this is not too big a deal. I was still at a point in my life where I could dedicate the time to practice and remain competitive. Then my career and life reduced my ability to remain competitive, by taking up so much time away from practicing. But, not before I earned my way to preliminary champion.

The sad part was, I couldn’t just step back into the adult ranks and stay dancing. The way the rules were written, I had to walk away completely for 5 years, from competition, before I could dance again. In those five years, my former dance school has uninvited adults from performances, and, from what I understand, their classes are quite small these days.

While I miss Irish dance, the organization of traditional Irish dance is still pitted against adults and lifelong dancing which I find sad. For me, you are never too old to dance. I will find another form of dance that loves to have adult dancers and that I love to do as much as I did Irish dance.


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