Irish Dancing is a Sport: A Group of Utah Girls Prove It!

Aug 13, 2012

Last month, Chicago was overrun by some of the best Irish dancers in North America. Thousands skipped their way to the Windy City to compete in the 2012 North American Irish Dance Championships, simply known in the Irish dancing world as Nationals.

Among many Irish dance schools from Utah that competed, Cache Valley was represented by the An Tus Nua Dance Company located in North Logan. Some of the An Tus Nua dancers talked to UPR's Dani Hayes about why they chose this specific type of dance.

"Because it's unique and I like to do different things than everyone else is doing. I used to do soccer, but I like to be different."

Whenever I hear the music, like when I'm driving in the car, my feet will randomly bounce. They want to dance to the music.

For these dancers, they eat, sleep and breathe anything Irish. They recognize Irish music on the car radio or in movies and react like any other Irish dancer would.

They have a passion for Irish dance and many choose to sacrifice time and money to compete. Just like any other sport, the competitions are intense but these dancers choose to do them to better themselves as dancers: "It keeps you wanting to do it. The more you do it the more challenging it gets. You meet a lot of new people and make a lot of friends."

Terena Lund, the head teacher and director of An Tus Nua, explains that an Irish dance competition can be compared to a gymnastics meet. Where gymnasts have different events like the bar, beam or vault, Irish dancers have 7 different dances they compete in like a jig, a reel, or a hornpipe. Each is scored individually. Mikyra Lund, a dancer at An Tus Nua, was invited to attend Nationals.

“It was intimidating. I was just hoping to do my best and be okay with how I danced. I'm not worrying about anyone else's dancing, I'm just worried about myself."

In Irish dance, you perform in two different kinds of shoe. One is the soft shoe, or gillie, similar to a ballet slipper. Hard shoes are the other, which are used to make noise and are what most people think of because of the fame of Riverdance. During a typical dance practice, dancers train in both types of shoe – rehearsing solo and group dances.

Lund drills her girls during practice so they have correct technique and proper rhythm.  She knows what judges are looking for and what looks good on stage.

"I just want them to look as clean as they can and with their feet super turned out because that's what's pretty, that's what makes it look nice. You have to pop as a dancer because you're competing against 250 kids in your competition."

If you have ever seen a competitive Irish dancer, their appearance is not easily forgotten. From head to toes, they are embellished with curls, sparkles and Celtic designs. Mikyra Lund describes the costume:

"The dresses need to be sparkly and catch the attention. The wig goes with the dress that goes with the tanner (because you have to have tan legs!).  It all pulls together into one look. It looks different for every girl. It's intimidating. You think, 'Oh gosh that's a beautiful dress, I hope she doesn't dance as good as that looks!'"

While many have knowledge of Irish dance by the show Riverdance, competitive Irish dance keeps the style more traditional and, for Lund, it's more impressive.

"If you've seen Riverdance or Lord of the Dance and you see that fantastic group dancing. To me that ranks as a 5. When you go to these competitions, like Nationals, the dancing is a 10."

While steeped in traditions from old Ireland, Irish dance has become a rising type of dance across the globe. There is something catching about the beat of the music and the rhythm of the hard shoes that people are drawn to. While striving to be the best dancers, this group from An Tus Nua loves coming to class because it gives them a chance to experience tradition, get a workout, and have fun.