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The College Guide To Irish Dancing

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Cara Sutherland is an Open Champion dancer from Cleveland, Ohio, USA. She is currently studying Exercise Science and is involved with the Performing Arts at John Carroll University.

Many Irish dancers reach the end of their dance careers when they get to college—mountains of schoolwork and limitations of being away from home can prove to be too much. In the last couple of years at the Oireachtas, my competition size reduced from 110 dancers to 28! At this point, those of us who still dance in college (or after) do it because we cannot imagine our lives without it!

We can all agree it’s definitely not easy—but can be done if you have the motivation!

Here’s my College Guide to Irish Dancing:


Whether you’re close enough to home that you can continue dancing at your own studio or have relocated to a new area, you’ll probably cut down your weekly number of classes. Commit to 1-2 times a week so you can regularly practice in the studio! This may involve a carpool if you do not have your own transportation. If you’re a long way from home, it’s possible to transfer without a six-month ban from competition. Irish dancing is an extensive network, so talk to your TCRG about other dance schools in your new area. I know a few dancers who did not transfer but practice their own material at a local Irish dance school whenever possible.


It’s crucial to find practice space on your campus for days in between dance classes. Fitness rooms, dance studios, and theatre stages are all suitable, so contact someone in charge of these resources about their guidelines and available hours. If there is no mirror available, I find it helpful to video record myself and write corrections when I review it later.


I keep a daily planner with assignments, tests, and meetings to avoid over scheduling myself and knowing when to work ahead for days that I’ll be at a dance class. I even write down motivational fitness quotes as reminders! Meanwhile, make sure you’re protecting your body by eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep. Dancers feel noticeably less stamina after only a few days of inactivity, so if I miss a dance class I try to fit in other cardio exercise. You can even do Paula Goulding’s lesson Pilates for Irish Dancers in your dorm!


Connect with other Irish dancers at your college or university! Irish dancing is growing everywhere and it’s highly likely you’ll meet other dancers who share your love for the sport. Many schools now have Irish dancing clubs with opportunities to perform throughout the year. I practice and perform with other dancers at my school and we agree that it keeps us motivated towards our fitness, dance, and scholastic goals.

Even if you’re not planning to compete anymore, Irish dancing can be an awesome stress reliever and fun way to exercise if you’re worried about the infamous “freshman 15.”

If you’re also a college student & Irish dancer, send me an e-mail about how you balance your commitments!

Photo credit: Wikipedia (modified by Diddlyi Media)

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