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The stage trembled under the rhythmic tapping of wood on wood as glossy ringlets bounced in the summer sun. After an energetic jig, a dozen grinning and giggling girls filed past me in their sparkling dresses. Meanwhile, I anxiously adjusted the straps on my black leather shoes and prepared to take the stage. After nearly a year of weekly Irish dance lessons, in just a few moments, I would be competing in my first Fèis — a traditional Gaelic cultural festival — at the tender age of seven. I was about to embark upon a path that would spark my interest in performing, inspire me to dedicate myself to my passions, and connect me to my Irish heritage.
Since that first Fèis, I have danced in over twenty competitions, and my initial nervousness has long since faded away, replaced by a self-assurance that I carry with me in everything I do. Years of practice to reach the third of four levels in each of my dances have shown me the rewards of perseverance. The pride that my family felt for me and that I felt for myself after winning each of my 85 trophies and medals only encouraged my competitive spirit. Along the way I also met many girls who shared the same drive and forged several close and long-lasting friendships.
The joy I took from Irish dance led me to pursue other styles of dance as well. For example, I joined my middle school’s cheerleading team, danced in several musicals, and choreographed modern concert dance pieces in high school. Expanding my focus to other styles of dance reduced the time I could spend on Irish dance, however. I did not devote enough practice time to do well in Feisianna, and Irish dance slowly moved down my list of priorities. After my freshman year of high school, I had stopped competing altogether, and I practiced just enough to perform once a year in my school’s international assembly. Although I enjoyed learning a range of other disciplines, I ultimately realized that I missed having a deeper sense of cultural meaning behind my passion for dance.
Making Irish dance one of my top priorities again has brought only positive results. Now that I am older and more educated about my heritage, I find even greater significance in sets, reels, and treble jigs than ever before. I now attend weekly group classes at Cairde na hÉireann to practice my technique, and I also take private lessons to learn new competition-level dances. I am proud that I have been able to reconnect with my cultural identity and rekindle my childhood ambitions — in fact, this summer I am planning on competing in the same Fèis that ignited my enthusiasm for dance in the first place.
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