We walked backstage teacher and students. We left the stage a group of friends brought together by dancing, something we will be forever.
When I was a young teen I had a thing about the idea that by being a dance teacher you could dance forever. A little bit of your dancing lived on in the people you taught, who gave it to those they taught, and so forth into the future, like a phoenix always rejuvenated. Since that age I have taught Irish dance to anyone who would not run away – friends on ballet camps and at school, people doing dares at sleepovers, and many many youngsters passing through the beginners class at the Murphy School of Irish Dance (or Scoil Rince Ni Murchu). I concluded my own competitive career in order to become a qualified teacher, and ceasing to take the stage myself was more difficult than I expected, almost a bit of an identity crisis after so many years of intense preparation for State and National competition being a large part of my life. But I frequently found opportunities to perform with my students, and redefined myself as a teaching performer, focussed on pleasing audiences big or small and training others to do the same. In recent years I have made my special interest teaching adults, who might otherwise never try dance at all, or never return to it after stopping as a child. I have found adults to be far more adaptable, committed, enthusiastic and willing to take on the complex world of Irish dance than I ever expected. Being a group of people around my own age, or older but sympathetic, or younger but aspiring, these adults quickly became true friends and a tight knit team we all now refer to as a family. This family knows few limits, and is there for those in it through all the kinds of ups and downs in life.
What few in it know well, is that I was an adult beginner too – not at Irish dancing, which I took up at nine years old, but at ballet, for which I attended my first class aged 20, with much trepidation as I walked in late, having had some trouble finding the room. I was greeted with enthusiasm by a smiling, petite woman who let me copy the person in front (a teenager of 15 or 16 who probably had no idea I was older) in my Irish softshoes. Both my husband (then boyfriend and subsequently fiance) Lloyd and I subsequently took part in several years of ballet and contemporary classes at Panache dance studio, being a part of their major mid year performances, with Lloyd of course as a gent being coached for major roles and partnering. We were taken into the Panache family and made a part of everything, feeling at home despite our comparative lack of skill. I got my pointe shoes by the end, and was told by Lloyd after our last end of year concert that I looked like a ballerina, a true surprise and a compliment I will always remember and value.
I stopped ballet during the chaotic time of moving out, preparing for our wedding, and studying for and sitting my Irish teacher’s exam, and Lloyd dropped out soon after due to his increased commitment to archery and the intensity of his PhD work. However, our Panache family from the senior class, including that same teacher who welcomed me in as a twenty year old, attended our wedding. Recently, around the same time as I was preparing my adult class for our final Irish dancing concert together, that ballet teacher, Denise, passed away from cancer. A few days ago we attended her funeral. Again, all the members of our senior ballet class were present. After the service, we assembled outside the church and someone let go a bunch of Panache-coloured helium balloons. They immediately made contact with the power lines, made a huge bang and flash of light, and a few drifted away freed, into the sky. Everyone applauded this grand finale, genuinely going out with a bang. And I knew that this dance teacher will dance forever indeed, having trained the teachers who now run Panache studio.
This experience made me think about my adult class, and how my teaching of them was partly modelled on Denise’s treatment of Lloyd and I in her classes. I reflected on how we, just like Panache, have formed a family. And I wondered about my capacity to dance forever through these students; many of them have been good mentors to newer students in class, have taught in the context of our class. But becoming an Irish dancing teacher requires an extremely high level of personal skill in all levels of Irish dance steps through to advanced, along with extensive knowledge of a huge variety of group dances, pieces of music and terminology. It is not something my dance family, having only recently begun their learning, despite their remarkable progress, are likely to ever aspire to. I do hope that those who remain will assist with teaching however, and in that capacity will pass on their skills to new beginners. One student in the regular class to which I have been an assistant teacher since her starting aspires to do her teachers, and I hope to hear of her progress.
All this rumination is a result of the fact that my life is about to enter a new era. My husband having obtained work overseas, I am to move away from my new dance family to embark on a great adventure. Some of my dance family will persist with dancing by going to one of the other teachers from our school. Others may not Irish dance again. I do not plan to teach dance overseas, as this would preclude any teacher-like interaction with my current school, and I would rather remain involved from afar. Perhaps, if I can find somewhere to do so, I will take to the stage for a while as a performing dancer. But this is all just conjecture. I hope that the members of this dance family we created will always stay in touch, and that as such the spirit of our dancing together will remain long after some of us no longer dance. The following refers to our final concert together.
We walked backstage teacher and students. We left the stage a group of friends brought together by dancing, something we will be forever. And as such we will dance forever, as the spirit of our dance family will always remain and connect us.