Defending Irish dance
After reading Sheila Flynn's interpretation of Irish dancing as a "cutthroat subculture" in last Friday's Inside Column, we felt a response was needed. As she mentioned, she quit at age 13 and was only exposed to one teacher.
Many other Irish dancers share this campus. As members of the Notre Dame/Saint Mary's Irish Dance Club, we have been blessed to work with quite a few of them. Contrary to Flynn's assertion that her Irish dance instructor fostered an "elitist, condescending attitude" in dancers and that they were bred to hate rival schools, there are dancers from various dance schools in our club. They have competed against each other and yet are dedicated to working and having fun together. For many who have spent years in Irish dance, many strong friendships came from class and competition.
Flynn asserts that Irish dance "is a highly-structured realm." This is true, but why is that bad? The purpose of the accreditation system for Irish dance teachers is to ensure that teachers have proper knowledge of the music and steps to pass on to their students. This is one of the most admirable aspects of Irish dance, and the fact that this structured system exists is a testament to the commitment so many people have made to it.
Flynn also mentioned two dancers from her former school (one of the most respected schools in the East) who were "pushed so hard that one now has severe tendonitis and the other has broken or sprained every toe and both ankles at least once." Despite their injuries, both of these dancers happen to be very successful still today; one of them toured with Riverdance and one placed at the World's twice.
Besides, what competitive sport does not have its share of injuries? In fact, Irish dance is one of the best exercises. And it has been said that of all dance genres, Irish dance has the lowest incidence of eating disorders. It is an incredibly healthy activity which fosters dedication and persistence and instills a great deal of confidence.
Sure, you have your fair share of extreme stage moms and teachers, but that does not mean all are like that. And it is the competitive nature which has created the dancers who are taking the world by storm with shows like Riverdance, now the best-selling video in the world. There are some horrible fathers and extreme coaches in Little League, but that doesn't mean all of Little League is bad.
While we respect Flynn's opinion and do not contest her personal experiences with Irish dance, we feel another opinion should be offered. For many of us, Irish dancing has been a defining and positive part of our lives and our time at Notre Dame. So we would suggest the next time you see Irish dancing, you think not of students embroiled in "countless petty rivalries" but of how amazing it is that a country barely the size of West Virginia has so successfully exported its music and dance to nearly every corner of the world, to accredited schools from Japan to Kenya, from the Czech Republic to Poland.
Notre Dame/Saint Mary's Irish Dance Club
All Viewpoint Stories for Monday, November 25, 2002