When I was an Irish dancer, I wasn't very good - particularly as I grew into a very tall pre-teen/teenager. I looked like a newborn colt. All legs - legs that were difficult to control. In Irish dancing controlling legs is paramount to success. (cue the WAH-WAH-wah - letdown music).
Almost all competitions were held outdoors. Sometimes the stage was VERY hot and my feet burned through my ghillies (soft traditional Irish dancing shoes).
I was on stage at a competition somewhere in Ohio. I think it was Cleveland. Definitely not Columbus. Oh, maybe it was Dayton. Anyway, I lined up on stage with the other girls. Back then, we danced one at a time. *when my kids danced it was 2 or 3 at a time.
There was a live musician, in this case it was Jimmy something-or-other playing the accordion. A judge sat at a long table in front of the stage. My sister, Marie - who was the best dancer of the three sisters, stood behind the judge's table with Mom. Mom needed Marie to give her a clue as to whether or not I was on time or properly executing my steps, etc.
If my sister wasn't dancing on her own stage, that was protocol. Come watch me and provide me with pointers afterward and assess how I did in addition to tipping Mom off regarding whether or not I'd done well. Mom drove us, without my dad, to this feis (Irish dancing competition, but different than a HUGE competition such as the regional championships or worlds. My kids attended a million feis as kids and also the biggies. I qualified once, maybe twice, for a regional - never worlds. Sweet mother, NEVER WORLDS - if you watch this 45 second video from a competition when I was younger you will understand why).
We often invited our close friends to drive with us in our car. That was by far my favorite part of the weekend. As in GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN - to me, goofing around in the car with my Irish dancing girlfriends WAS the bomb. So, so many stories. That family consisted of 7 girls, many with red hair. Both parents were off the boat from Ireland and spoke with a thick brogue. The identical twins were 10 months older than me, and another sister was 11 months younger than me. It was a perfect friend sandwich. To this day, I don't think I've met another family blessed with such a quick wit and hilarious sense of humor. The twins and I competed in the same competition. There was zero animosity though. Our moms cared more than we did.
That day waiting in my heavy, bulky, rose colored costume with navy cape in the sweltering heat with the gift of a little shade on our stage, I waited in line with one of the twins, Kathy. She and I aligned with subpar dancing as opposed to her twin, Karen, who typically danced better than us. We watched the girls ahead of us. As we stood side stage, we ran through our steps in our head - often using our fingers to 'dance' the steps out on our thumb. This might help with timing. Unless you were me, in which case there was no help.
Would you believe that Jimmy was terribly hung over, or perhaps even still wasted from partying into the wee hours of the morning? As he played, he sort of drifted off to sleep and failed to keep the music at a consistent pace. Once the line of girls finished their one-after-the-other row, they bowed and filed off the stage, walking past me. They were all grumbling to one another.
"Did you hear the music? I couldn't dance to that speed. He paid no attention to the speed I requested."
They were frustrated. Kathy and I exchanged an 'OH-CRAP' look as we filed on stage. As I waited for my turn, I eyed my mom positioned under the tree. She nodded an encouraging 'COME ON, ERNIE. YOU'VE GOT THIS' - complete with a signal to pull my shoulders back. Nervous energy caused her to squeeze her neck muscles, roll her lips inside of her mouth, protrude her chin, and quickly run her index finger under her nose.
Keep in mind the stage was 12 feet by 12 feet at most, so this was a far cry from a Broadway production. Several stages dotted the grounds surrounding a building, maybe a school. Throughout the day, we bopped around to various stages depending on where our dances were scheduled to compete.
Standing there, I turned my attention away from my twitchy mom and noted the continued issue with the music. My competitors were rolling their eyes and shaking their heads after their turn as they marched back to the line, facing away from the judge.
When it was my turn, I stepped forward and listened to my bar of music. I signaled with a wave of my hand to slow the music down. I began to dance. The music sped up gradually, as anticipated. I couldn't keep up while stomping, trebling and clicking through my step. I stood no chance of winning this competition, so I stuck my hand out from behind my dress and AGAIN motioned for drunk Jimmy to slow-the-hell down. My hand motion was aggressive and unprecedented. Dancers weren't allowed to adjust music WHILE dancing. That ship had theoretically sailed.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Marie shake her head and whisper an OH NO - SHE'S BLOWN HER CHANCES to Mom. Mom's posture, like a deflated balloon, reflected her disappointment. I wanted to shout HEY YOU TWO, I'M DANCING HERE. TRYING ANYWAY. CAN YOU NOT BE SO OBVIOUS IN YOUR DISGUST? I was terribly off the music, but even if Jimmy had avoided the pubs the night before - I would've struggled to keep the beat anyway.
I bowed to the judge, and then to the idiot musician, as is customary. When I turned to walk back to the line, the other dancers' faces were wide-eyed. Before the next dancer danced, the judge held up his hand - freezing the competition. He hopped up and approached Juiced Jimmy. The competition paused while Jimmy got some coffee or something. I don't remember. All I know is that when we filed off the stage the next line of girls waiting to dance patted my arm and thanked me profusely. I'd taken one for the team, so to speak, and they were relieved that I'd in a sense alerted the authorities.
Mom and Marie weren't so congratulatory, and the world of Irish dancing isn't so forgiving - the judge, in case you are wondering, did NOT grant me sympathy points or give me a participation medal. After the verbal backlash from Mom, it wasn't severe - it was like WHY?, I raced off to change out of my dress and hang out with my red headed besties for the rest of the afternoon before we piled into the red '76 Chevy Impala station wagon, driving 6 or 7 hours straight home. That was part of the method to our family madness: refuse to pay to stay in the hotel a 2nd night.
I know some of you miss Irish dancing stories - hope you enjoyed this retro tale. I thought of it, because of a coaching issue that we're dealing with currently. I'm torn about whether or not to wave my hand mid-dance, so to speak, in hopes that the situation improves for the rest of the players. More on that mess later.
Any former Irish dancers out there - if so, did the horn pipe torment you too? Did you do lessons of some kind that you disliked? Did you have a sibling who ratted you out when you screwed up? Were you involved in something that you weren't good at, but the fun with friends was worth it?