My husband Mark and I looked at each other. “She’s paying attention” we said incredulously. Our daughter Emily, well-established as a child with much more enthusiasm than attention span, was participating in a free Irish Dance class given by Trinity to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. We’d tried other activities, including ballet, and Emily was always much more interested in her own agenda than whatever the instructor had to say. Seeing her rapt attention to the instructor amazed us.
After class Emily proudly taught us the steps she’d learned, and we reinforced to her how wonderful it was that she’d worked hard and listened. Since she’d so enjoyed the class we registered her for Trinity’s summer program to see if her interest held.
Again, we were impressed not only with her teacher’s wonderful teaching style but also with Emily’s attentiveness. Irish step dance so enthralled her that during class she transformed from our frenetic, impossible-to-contain little girl into someone who focused and worked hard to get the steps right. That fall we enrolled her in Beginner (at the time called “River”) level classes, and she hasn’t stopped dancing since.
Over the past four years Irish Dance has brought a lot to our lives. During this time Emily has learned the power of:
1. Hard Work: When we started feis-ing I was nervous about how the culture of competition would affect our family. I have no interest in being in an environment where ‘winning is celebrated, nothing else matters.’ We have NOT found that to be the case! Instead, I’ve seen competition quickly teach Emily that hard work pays off. Not one dancer earns recognition simply by showing up. Instead, Emily’s learned how to focus her energy and do her best, as this is what brings rewards. Sometimes that might be a medal, sometimes it’s her own knowledge that she’s tried complicated steps for the first time. The families we see at competitions make sure to focus on hard work and bringing your best self to the stage; never “win at all costs.”
2. Perseverance: Any one moment in life can seem like THE ultimate win-or-lose moment. However as adults we recognize life is not moments but a marathon. Emily’s come away from competitions thrilled, frustrated, humbled, proud, relieved, and exhausted. Through it all, though, she’s learned dance will still be there. And that is what she loves. She can dance on the playground at school, in the kitchen, at class with her friends, on a stage in front of a huge crowd, before a single judge. Dance will be there, and she will have opportunities to learn, to be challenged, and to shine.
3. Joy: Last year we lost a much loved family member after an extended battle with cancer. Her life was celebrated with an “Irish wake” including an abundance of music, food and drink. Emily donned her wig and green dress and danced the jig and the reel, and then taught many friends and family members a couple basic jig steps. Her costume and dance gave many people a reason to smile, and participating in traditional dance steps helped many of us have fun while honoring our loved one, who was fiercely proud of her Irish heritage. Emily knows that dance brings joy to others. In another example, Emily’s learned from our experiences as a foster care family that many children live unsafe / unhappy home lives. This sometimes includes disturbances in her own life, which can be a lot to handle. Dance is a place where she knows she is welcome and safe, and where she can focus on something uniquely special to her. Emily knows that joy brings strength to herself and others.
Four years ago we had no idea where a single class would take our daughter. Now I know she’s learned far more than the dance steps she loves. In addition to all I’ve listed she’s also gained friendships, and had amazing performance opportunities. Thank you to her longtime teacher Miss Caitlin, and the Trinity community for capturing my daughter’s attention. She’s an amazing little creature – as all the dancers are! It’s wonderful to be a part of this community of school, dancers and families.
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