The stepdancer pictured here is far more advanced than I am! But I began taking lessons at the Lyons Academy of Irish Dance back in February, and I love it.
Best. Hobby. Ever.
The popularity of Irish Dance has exploded over the past fifteen years. Of course, the Irish have been dancing jigs for centuries. But in the mid-1990s, Michael Flatley brought global attention to the art form with his mesmerizing sell-out performances of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance. American kids flocked to stepdancing classes, finding a fun alternative to gymnastics or ballet. And Irish Dance has its own vibrant subculture, with young students dancing at Celtic fairs all over Europe and North America.
So when my sister suggested that we sign up for an adult beginners class, I thought it sounded like a good idea. I knew that I wouldn’t have enough time to train for another triathlon this year, so I needed a new physical goal. And what could be more fun than dancing jigs with my sister while listening to fiddles, accordions and bagpipes? (Contrary to common belief, I don’t only listen to opera… well, ok, I do listen to a lot of opera. But not exclusively.)
Still, it was just a fun thing to do on Wednesday nights. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that we would actually compete at a feis (Irish dance competition) this year. But that’s what happened. I blame it on our teacher, dance champion Meredith Lyons, because she is an amazing teacher. She encouraged us to go for the gold… and in fact, I came home from the Long Beach Halloween Feis with three gold medals and two silvers! (Full disclosure: there were only a dozen people in the adult beginners category.) I had so much fun.
Irish dancers use two kinds of shoes: soft shoes (or ghillies) and hard shoes. There are four traditional soft shoe dances: the reel, light jig, slip jig, and single jig. The difference between the dances has to do with the time signature of the music. Reels are in 4/4 time, but light and single jigs are in 6/8, and slip jigs are in 9/8. There are also a variety of hard shoe dances: the hornpipe (syncopated 2/4 or 4/4), as well as the treble jig, the treble reel and traditional set dances.
So if you need a lift, I recommend Irish Dance. It’s great exercise and it’s guaranteed to improve your mood. After all, it’s hard not to grin when you’re dancing a jig. Just stepdance your cares away! But I warn you: it’s addictive.