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Unique Challenges I Face As An Adult & Competitive Irish Dancer

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.

I have not been shy about my age when writing about my Irish dance career. But in case you missed it, I’m 26 going on 27. In the grand scheme of life, I’m relatively young. However, in the grand scheme of Irish dance, I’m pretty old. Since I took such a significant break during my dance career, it is very clear to me now that there are a lot of things I took for granted back in the day that have proven to be a challenge to me now that I am an adult participating in the competitive world of Irish dance:

My physical condition

My body has proven to be the biggest challenge for me since my return to Irish dance. Now that I’m a little older, I have to work a lot harder on things like stamina (which I often feel can disappear if I go without dancing for even a few days). I also have to take much better care of my body. Whereas before I could just jump into a practice or a show, now I have to really take time to warm up my body and stretch. And similarly, when I’m done, I have to cool down and stretch. Since I’ve come back, I’ve also started experiencing things like achilles tendonitis that have required regular trips to a physical therapist, almost-daily icing and a consistent routine of special stretches and exercises.

My schedule

My schedule is a close second to my body. Now that I am an adult with a full-time job, I seriously have no idea how my parents used to spend so much time driving me and my sister almost two hours away to go to dance classes multiple times per week. I live about 20 minutes from my studio currently, and sometimes it can be hard to just motivate myself to get in the car and go there, especially if I’ve had a long or tiring day at work. I am also in the midst of planning a wedding, which is demanding schedule-wise in its own ways. In fact, just this week I had to choose between working on dance stuff and buckling down and getting our wedding invitations stuffed, addressed, stamped and mailed.

I also sometimes have a hard time balancing having a social life with being back on a competitive schedule for Irish dance. During the month leading up to NANS this summer, my schedule consisted of working, going to dance class, coming home to spend about 30 minutes to an hour eating dinner and spending time with my fiance, going to bed and getting up to do it all over again. I know having a social life can be a difficult balance for a lot of Irish dancers, especially when it comes to things like going to bed early on a Saturday night for a feis on Sunday, and I can definitely relate!

Learning movements

Picking up new movements and tricks that we didn’t really do back in the day has also proven to be quite the challenge for me. Irish dance changed a lot in the seven years I was out of it, and there really is something to the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” (Read Julia’s previous post here: Now & Then — What Changed During My 7-year Break From Irish Dance.) Things like Belfasts and tours in soft shoe and heel drops and double stamps in hard shoe continue to baffle me to the extent that I sometimes spend some of my independent practice time working on the movements so I’ll be able to do them during drills at class. And I often have to work on these movements a lot before they’re finally ready for class or for trying in my steps.

Despite all these challenges, though, I do have to say that being an adult and a competitive Irish dancer really does make me appreciate everything that much more. Finally mastering a new movement or having a great day at a feis on one of my precious weekend days feels so satisfying and sweet, and I really do try to appreciate every moment I spend Irish dancing!
Photo credits: Courtesy of Julia.

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