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Why A Support System Is So Important For Irish Dancers

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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.

Earlier this month, I competed at my first NANs in about ten years, less than a year after coming back to competing following a seven-year break. It is not an exaggeration to say that I danced more in the month of June than I can even remember, and now that I have had time to recover from all the hard work I put in and all the excitement I experienced at the competition, I realize how important my support system is. In Montreal (and before), I was surrounded by my parents, grandparents, siblings, fiance, dance friends and teachers (an intense list, I know), and there is no way I could have even made it onto that stage without them! So in honor of my ridiculously large and unfailingly present support system, here are the times that I think are most important for all Irish dancers to have their own support systems:

Independent Practice time

I’m putting this one first, because it is the most important one for me. Without my practice time outside of classes, there is no way I would ever be able to get through three jig steps at a competition. And without my closest dance friends who are always including me in their independent studio time and who come to mine, I would hardly ever even make it to the studio for independent practice. Having them around makes my studio time feel more like fun and less like work, and we all push each other to practice hard and be better dancers. I definitely owe a lot to them, and would never have had so much success at competitions without them!

Scheduled class time

My dance friends are also really important to my scheduled dance class time, but there are two other parts of my support system who get the credit for this aspect. The first are my dance teachers. They work very hard to support all their dancers to the best of their abilities, and it really shows! There is no way I would have gotten so far back into the Irish dance world without great teachers guiding me. The second is my fiance. He really deserves a lot of credit for the support he gives me because he was almost a total stranger to Irish dance before he met me. But no matter what I’m practicing for or how many hours I spend at the studio, he is always encouraging me to do more and push myself to see how far I can go this time around. Whenever I am unsure about the commitment I’ve made to getting back into dance, all it takes is a conversation with him to remind me that I’ve made the right decision.


This is really where my family comes into play. As an adult with a full-time job, it can be hard to motivate myself to spend a whole weekend day at a high school waiting around to dance or to use my precious vacation days to fly to the Oireachtas or drive to NANs. But it is much less hard when you have a family who wants to go with you to keep you company! From my sister who has helped me countless times with my hair and makeup and my mom who has only missed one feis since I’ve come back, to my dad, brother and grandparents who drove all the way to Montreal just to watch me dance, it makes going to a competition feel much more like a fun outing. And it is always sweet to celebrate with them when I do well and even to lean on them if I have a disappointing day.

Obviously every dancer’s support system will look different and will be made up of different people playing different roles. But think about your own support system. Who are those people without whom it would be hard to make it from one competition to the next? And more importantly, have you thanked them lately?
Photo credit: Julia Russell

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