Monday, December 3, 2012

A response to Mike Farragher's ill conceived and written article in the Irish Voice...

In response to Mike Farragher’s ill conceived and written article about Irish Dance in the Irish Voice…

Well now Mr. Farreher, I now know why organizers weren't keen on giving you access... I had so much more hope for you and your ability to go beyond the haze of tanner and hairspray fumes and see the underlying core of why we engage in this crazy dance world. I guess I just expected more, especially from the consummate expert on the Irish cultural experience.  But this just paints the same old picture of stressed out crazy moms and dads and high maintenance dancers… nothing new. It could be Abby Lee or my favorite, the Dance Moms of Miami.

The dances that were performed during the ceili competition you watched are dances our ancestors have danced for centuries.  You should mention some of the names of them to your Mom and Dad (they weren't all a variation of  “A Trip to the Cottage”).  I'm sure they would bring a smile to their faces as they remembered some Saturday evening dancing in their kitchens back home.  I know that I see my Dad smile when he sees Kathryn dance them.  And, it makes me smile when I listen to them discuss parts of the dance much the way the Monday morning quarterbacks discuss plays of a big Sunday night football game. 

Speaking of which... I often find it odd that we think  spray tanning (which I'm fairly confident you would have jumped at the chance to don a Speedo and tan your sexy gams to show off under your kilt) is odd but slapping pads and full gear on a seven year old and putting him on a football field in the middle of the hottest day of August seems "normal".  Or that an organization that is geared toward children uses cookies to promote and fund the organization even though childhood obesity is at an all time high.  Trust me I've eaten my share of Thin Mints.  But forgive me if I don't understand why we think the primping and priming are strange in Irish dance, yet seem to over look them when our 9 year olds gyrate to some inappropriate pop song in some scantily clad outfit in “mainstream dance”.  

Now I'd be lying if I told you I loved those aspects of Irish dance. I have often told you, and have said it even in my blog, that I’d much prefer to watch Kathryn dance in shorts and a t-shirt, in a sweltering studio, being yelled at by tough Irish dance teachers than I do in full regalia. But, when they walk out on that stage and smile in those dresses, often with intricate Celtic knotwork (similar to dresses we wore eons ago), I can’t help but feel my heart swell.  And, when they complete a difficult figure perfectly, my heart bursts because I know that their hearts are bursting with pride at reaching a goal set long ago by a dance teacher that trusted their ability.

You didn’t take the time to meet the dancers like my daughter who often give up countless childhood activities like birthday parties and outings with friends to practice dance.  The same child that has come home from dance exhausted with blistered feet, but takes the time to watch videos of her dances to help improve her technique.  Talk about determination and dedication!!! A life skill dance has taught her.

What I thought you'd see in the practice room, and later at the lounge, are the strong confident Irish women (much like our mothers) that are instilling the same confidence that brought our parents to this new country and gave them the strength to make it.  Or that you’d see the commitment of the dads that are willing to put up with carrying a pink, glittered dress through the lobby of a hotel for their daughter who is about to dance solo or who simply sits patiently for hours saving seats while their wives stand by nervous and stressed watching a last practice before the big moment. I hoped that you would share or listen to conversations later that evening as each woman talked about their summers in the Catskills or the Rockaways. How we all had the same fear of disappointing our sainted mothers; a fear we still have even though some of the moms are long gone. We all have the same stories to tell and we all fully believe that a cup of tea can cure almost anything. These are friendships forged by years of the Irish Culture that we grew up in and now have the pleasure of sharing with our own children.

So laugh and scowl if you must at our tanned legs, glittered dresses and made up faces but know that you have missed the boat on describing the Irish dance experience to the public.  And, remember as the t-shirt in the vendor stands at the Oireachtas says, “dancers kick their butts in class so they can kick yours on stage”.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Before a competition, feis moms dutifully pack there Zuca Bags, caboodle boxes (I swear all real things) and dress bags with a plethora of dance supplies… wigs, make up, electrical and duct tape, ChapStick (not for lips but to adhere glitter to their eyes), glitter, staplers, sharpie markers, etc… Which leads me to a text from a dear dance mom friend with a picture of a bottle of WHITE OUT attached to it that read,  "Didn't think this would ever be on my dance packing check list." My response... "Funny of all the things we've packed through the years it's a bottle of WHITE OUT that seems odd LOL." Odd indeed… I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what in the name of the feis gods [we] would need White Out for but for fear of being under prepared I text back the universal symbol for “what the heck” … “?”.

Who knew Irish dance was just like any other sport?! They are always improving the equipment and thus we are always adding to our “Feis Kits”. On the dance market the new must haves are hard shoes that have a white rim that runs around the ankle opening.  That thin lip of white leather, carefully encircling the ankle of the dancer, is suppose to make their foot look compact and petite while dancing, thus magically improving their overall appearance and, one would hope, make them dance better. We Moms tell ourselves these lies, and a laundry list of others, as we justify our dwindling bank accounts for the sake of dance. Our hope is that the judges will notice our attention to the details, perhaps missing a dropped heel or a foot that is not pointed or arched—another lie.  And, while I am thankful Irish dance doesn’t promote the stick skinny idea of beauty, it appears from these shoes and the fact that we order them a size or two too small that big feet are a NO-NO.  Who knew it was my size nine boats that kept me from the podium in my day? I find it funny how much dance attire has changed over the years/decades. Gone are the days of the hob nailed shoes our ancestors wore that were oddly similar to what I wore as a kid. No taps, no fiber glass tips just rows and rows of tiny little nail heads covering the toe and heel of the shiny patent leather shoe.  Now I know that was long ago… long enough for a pair of said shoes to be listed under Irish/dance/old/hard shoes/antiques on EBAY. But these new shoes make me long for those good old days.

As I sit here now I can’t help but wonder if my mother would have colored the laces on my shoes to match the eyeholes? Would she have pack White Out to cover the scuffs and blemishes that dancing would create? I’m fairly confident that from beyond the grave I can hear her saying, “You must be daft.” The same way I heard her saying, “Now you’ve lost what little mind you had,” when I wrote the check for $1900.00 (more than double the price of my wedding gown some twenty years ago) for a dance dress for my 10 year old, which I bought in June and she out grew before the Oireachtas in November.

How did Irish dance morph into this combination dance competition/toddlers and tiaras sort of a world?  In my day the worst experience before a competition was for us to spend hours having curlers affixed to our heads by tough Irish mothers, a scene that was similarly played out before Christmas Day or any other major holiday or outing. So while I can see the connection to putting on your “Sunday best”, I don’t know how “Sunday best” came to mean your hair had to look like a rag doll’s or the dust mop I keep in the hall closet.  All I know is if my daughter came downstairs on Sunday morning dressed for church with her hair looking like it did in her wig I would say, “WILL YOU PLEASE RUN A BRUSH THROUGH THAT RAT’S NEST.”  And if she wore a dress short enough to show her knickers, covered in neon animal print, bedazzled to the hilt, I would ask her what corner she would expect to be working. 

I have seen dresses at competitions that look like they were on loan from the circus!!! Crazy patterns and color combinations that would have Heidi Klum saying “Auf Wieder Sehen,” if they graced the stage on Project Runway.  Yet we Moms buy them and tout the designers of them like they were Gucci or Louboutin—and let’s face it they are just about as pricey.

In class they dance in shorts and socks, with their hair neatly tied back. I love that… and I love to hear tough Irish dance teachers yelling counts over music I’ve listened to all my life.  I love the look on their faces when they accomplish a figure in a ceili that was once thought too hard.  I love when they are sweaty and exhausted, and yet still they are smiling. Nothing, not even a Swarowski crystal encrusted dress can compare to that.

So I say… bring back the simple clean lines… level the playing field… let the dancing be highlighted… and let the pigs fly, lol.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Surviving Nationals

While the rest of the sane world was enjoying the birthday of our fine country on July 4th, I was trapped with a gaggle of crazy Irish dance moms at the North American Dance National Championships in Chicago.  

There is duct taping, wig-throwing, shouting, and nervous sweat in abundance right before the competition. Amidst the early morning chaos of readying our preteen and teenage daughters for their moment in the spotlight, I begin to channel some strange robotic, perfect, zombie inner-mother. I started speaking in a tone that can only be described as Mary Poppins heavily medicated on Zoloft. “Ok Kathryn time to get ready,” I say in this bizarre Zen sing-song voice. She gets her bag of sundries out… a wig (similar to a dust mop I use on my wood floors), a bag load of various sized hair pins, a brush and then… PANIC.  “I don’t have the DONUT?!?!” Now those of you not in the dance world might just assume that she woke up really hungry or that I have instilled really bad eating habits in my teenage daughter but neither would be true. A “donut” is used under the wig to provide height.  “Ok,” I say in my singsongy happy voice, “No worries we’ll improvise.”  This is usually done with a sock—but… I didn’t pack any socks.  So to avoid any undo stress I calmly rummage through the suitcase and pulling out a thong I say in my Zoloft infused Mary Poppins voice,  “Yes, yes this will do quite nicely,” all the while thinking OMG who the hell are you?

I begin to ready her head for wig placement, careful not to jab too hard or pull too tightly. Constantly checking on her nerves, providing encouraging words and from her… NOTHING. No expression. No conversation. NOTHING.  I start to get a little concerned. I don’t know why she’s like this at every competition but it starts to put a little stress in my Mary Poppins Zoloft voice.  And finally she speaks…“The girls are waiting for us we’re late!” “Ok it’s breakfast tell them to walk over we’ll meet them there,” said Zoloft Mary Poppins.   Another text and another,  “We’re late they’re waiting for us.” And another, “Ok we are walking out the door, tell them to start walking we’ll meet them there,” said Zoloft Mary Poppins with a now noticeable Jersey City accent.   And then the rapid fire text to her phone and now mine.  The Mary Poppins in me ducked for cover and let me out… “IT’S BREAKFAST!!! WE DON’T HAVE TO EAT TOGETHER TO DANCE TOGETHER… THE EXACT SAME TEXT FROM EVERY PERSON IS NOT GOING TO MAKE US GET THERE ANY SOONER… TELL THEM TO WALK OVER AND WE WILL MEET THEM THERE… NOW CALM DOWN AND KNOCK OFF THE FEISTUDE!!” With a chime noting the arrival of the elevator Zoloft Mary Poppins returned and said,  “Now, let’s get to breakfast shall we.”  Breakfast was great.  No one ate. 

Competition time arrives… headbands, make-up check, stretching, run throughs, grouchy Sheraton Staff (you know who you were).  The “Moms” settle into the ballroom packed with spectators. They announce our team and we all hold our collective breaths. “Please GOD just let them dance well.”  Zoloft Mary Poppins has bitten her well-manicured nails down to the nubbins at this point.  It seems like an eternity… but somehow during the dance the rest of the world slips away as we watch our girls dance.  I find myself feeling my mother, long gone standing right beside me.  I know that this is what she and my dad experienced all those years ago watching me, and the girls I still call my dance friends perform these same ceilis in the basement of St. John the Baptist Church in Jersey City under the tutelage of Margaret McNamara.   Back in the here and now, the girls danced beautifully.  Now we wait and see if they were good enough to get a medal.  They don’t actually tell what place you’ll get just that you placed.  Emotions ping-pong back and forth, between happy, hopeful, sad, terrified, disappointed and just teenaged angst.  “Do you think we’ll recall,” my Kathryn asks?  There is no right answer.  For the record, not even Zoloft Mary Poppins can answer that one correctly.

They get their “Recall,” which is code for “more stress this way”.   Exhausted, we put back on the dresses, check the wigs and headbands, slap on some make-up and send them up.  Thirty seconds later it is all over with.  We waited for three hours for 30 seconds of fame.   I cheer loudly for the their accomplishment, wishing maybe they could have been a little higher (unless they’re first we all think it and you’re lying if you say you don’t).  She comes off the stage and we hug and in that hug I feel every arm of every Irish ancestor wrap around us and suddenly, three hours of claustrophobia doesn’t seem quite so long and my heart is swelling with pride and my inner Zoloft Mary Poppins swallows hard on a Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine go down.