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Now & Then — What Changed During My 7-year Break From Irish Dance

Julia is a champion dancer with the Teelin School of Irish Dance in Maryland. She recently came back to competing after a seven-year hiatus, and is still working on adjusting to being back in the competitive world of Irish dance. When she isn’t training, she works as a journalist in Washington, D.C. You can connect with her on twitter, where she goes by @RussellJuliaD.

As I get ready to take on my first local feis following my first Oireachtas in seven years, it’s really got me thinking about how much Irish dance has changed since I was last on the competition scene. Not only am I at a different school, but I’m also wearing a different dress and learning different movements — sometimes all the changes can feel a little overwhelming.

But then I also start to think about all the things that haven’t changed, and I remember why I decided to go back to a sport and artform that I truly love. So what exactly has changed and what has stayed the same?


What has changed?


The dresses and hairstyles are so different from seven years ago! I am loving the new style of dresses that are so much more flattering, and way more fun. I never thought I could love a dress as much as the one that was made for me when I was 15, but the dress I bought last summer to go back to competing is really giving it a run for its money. It is lighter, more comfortable and looks and feels great on! Not to mention it’s gorgeous. I am definitely loving it. And the hairstyles have really come a long way. Back in the day, everyone just wore the full wigs with rigid headpieces that matched our dresses — and even further back in the day my mom actually had to curl my hair with foam rollers the night before competitions. But now there is so much more personalization, and I love it! Every dancer does her hair a little different, and it’s such a great way to really make your look your own.

Dance Style & Training

The difference in the dancing isn’t quite as pronounced as the difference in style, but it isn’t exactly the same style of dancing I was doing seven years ago. Today’s style is much more athletic and strong — which I love! The training is also pretty different. Cross-training is emphasized a lot more, which is great for our bodies as dancers. Instead of dedicating all of our studio time to just dance, my classes now consist of a little bit of stretching, a little bit of ballet, a little bit of plyometrics, in addition to the dance.


What has stayed the same?

Working Hard Isn’t Negotiable

One of the things that hasn’t changed is the amount of hard work we all have to put into our dancing — and the great feeling that comes from working hard and reaching our goals! I didn’t realize how much I missed how good it feels to go to practice and just focus on dance and nothing else for a while until I was back in the studio taking classes. And few things feel better than putting that hard work in at the studio and having it pay off at competitions or performances.

The People

This has definitely been one of the most important things for me as I’ve eased back into the world of Irish dance. My teachers, my family and the friends I’ve made at dance have really made all the difference for me. I don’t know that I would have gotten back into competition without support from my school or the dress my cousin-in-law hooked me up with or my practice buddy Jenny who holds me accountable for practicing outside of classes. And the more I get back into dance, the more people I make connections with, and that is something I definitely missed a lot. As Irish dancers, we really are a close-knit community full of support and connected by a passion for our culture — and that will hold true forever!


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