I can still remember the very first time I went on stage for an Irish dancing competition. I was 11 years old and my heart was racing. I remember walking out smartly, wrapped in a scented cloud of hairspray and shoe polish waiting for the accordion music to start and the adjudicator’s bell to ring. I remember the nerves, the tense build up of anticipation and my muscles coiled like springs waiting to be released as soon as the beat began.
It was, and still is, one of the best feelings in the world.
Today, the stage has grown a lot bigger and the swirling world of Irish dance has seen some changes. There are now curly wigs, sock glue nd fake tan for a start, but that feeling – of anticipation and release – remains as powerful as it was all those years ago.
This year, the World Irish Dancing Championships returns to Glasgow and thousands of dancers will descend on the city to experience that exact same feeling –it doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been dancing – that feeling never dies.
Winning the ‘Worlds’ as they are commonly known is the absolute for most dancers. To even attend and compete is a massive accomplishment and one that all dancers, parents and supporters recognise.
Traditionally held in Ireland since 1970 it was in 2002 that Glasgow became the first city to host t
he Championships outside Ireland – and this year will be the fourth time they have made their grand return.
I wish all the dancers taking part this year the very best of luck but I also know that it is not just down to luck. It is down to the months and years that have led to this; the hours of hard work in class but mo
re importantly those hours of private practice at home, in school and anywhere else you could find the space to dance.
I remember dancing on the concrete floor in the garage, on the wooden loft hatch brought down to the living room and on the patio in the garden. I swapped my gym class at school to practice and I’d dance before I went to school as well as travelling to classes twice a week. I wasn’t even competing at the highest level and I didn’t take it as seriously as those incredible dancers who would return after a victorious weekend with their trophies and titles.
I was lucky enough to attend The McLaughlin School of Irish Dancing in Glasgow one of Scotland’s most revered and successful dance schools. They are now celebrating their 50th year. I am also delighted to note that James and Kathleen McLaughlin, my first and best teachers have been announced as the official honourees by the An Coimisiun Le Rinci Gaelacha at this year’s championships. An Coimisuin said ‘The McLaughlin School Glasgow has had much success on the competitive circuit training multiple World, All Ireland and Scottish champions in Solo, Team and Dance Drama events. Kathleen has adjudicated at Irish dance events worldwide and James is a leading figure in An Coimisiún. The next generation of McLaughlin’s is teaching alongside James and Kathleen thus ensuring the continuation of this legacy. They will be guests of honour at this year’s event in Glasgow.’
My love of Irish Dance was discovered at the McLaughlin School in a darkened church hall on the south side of Glasgow where the notes of the beginner reel music would come tumbling down the stairs each Saturday morning and it has shaped my life. I will be forever thankful for the teaching I received from James and Kathleen. Today, I infuse that love of dance with different styles and adopt a more lyrical take on Irish Dancing.
I now run one of the largest schools in Edinburgh; Siamsoir and The Irish Dance Academy. Siamsoir is the performance troupe and The Irish Dance Academy is where dancers come to learn about fitness, health, performance choreography as well as traditional steps to take part in feisanna. We specialise in Performance Irish Dance rather than focusing on competing and I love every minute of it. I get to help new dancers through their first nervous classes and build them up to go on stage. I help returning dancers remember their passion and rediscover what they loved about dancing. There is a different pressure associated with performing that brings out the best in these dancers.
I am proud to say that we are the only award winning Performance Troupe in Scotland winning The Best Dance and Theatre Act at The Big Burns Supper festival in Dumfries for our faery tale in Irish Steps ‘The Prophecy’.
We produce large scale shows and invite dancers from across the city to join us. Thunder and Lightning is our St Patrick’s show, which typically sells out each year. This year we look forward to hosting the dancers from the Ward School of Irish Dance as well as traditional Celtic musicians and a Samba drumming band. There will be nearly 100 artists taking part on March 19, so it will be a varied, energetic and uplifting experience.
Siamsoir is all about creating opportunities for dancers to perform and taking dance to people and places that wouldn’t normally experience it. Instead of competing every weekend we are performing and entertaining at varied gigs throughout Scotland and further afield. We have travelled nationally and internationally performing our original shows.
Whatever the style of Irish Dancing, whether it’s the competition driven World Irish Dance Championships where steps are executed with precision and energy under a huge amount of pressure or whether it’s the soul baring experience of sharing your love of dance with an audience who have paid to be transported by your performance on stage; both are valuable experiences for dancers and spectators alike.
No matter what the stage or the style, the experience for you as a dancer remains the same – the glow of the lights, the feel of the music through your feet and that moment when your routine starts and the dance takes you
Enjoy every single minute of it – it is, after all, one of the best feelings in the world.
The World Irish Dancing Championships 2016 will be held at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall from 20th to 27th March.